Against the black pines,
a great egret, so large, so white, wading,
then freezing above its reflection.
Every Independence Day
it returned to our pond where it pretended
to be two reeds and a patch of sunlight,
until the splash, the snaky lunge,
the image shattered, rippled, coming back,
the beak pointing skyward,
the momentary swelling of the neck.
How I wanted to sneak in
for a closer look but had no cover,
so the alarmed bird would spring up,
laboring, beating the air,
circling, then heading over the horizon
to another pond, a quieter place.
And I imagined the minnows, frogs, salamanders
all relieved, all gathering in the dark
to tell horror stories
of Snapping Turtle, Mr. Cottonmouth, Big Daddy Bass—
but saving a shuddering whisper for the Lightning Striker,
and proclaiming the name sacred, a secret.
But here, smelling the shore mud
and listening to the water, the wind as quiet as bird’s breath,
I pretend to be the plumed wonder,
and, solitary, I wade in deeper, one step,
then, another—wishing I were never distracted,
never deceived by the radiant image
(a long beak, hidden wings)—
I concentrate, waiting for what’s moving below the surface,
a flicking shadow, breathing, moving toward my feet.
--John Thomas York