The Pursuit | Crows in Snow | Local Freeze
Poems by Neil Shepard

The Pursuit

By now, we all know it: the roots of plants wed
white hyphae laced throughout the soil,
a wood-wide web that sends its chemical signals   
of health or stress or death across the forest floor — 
to near-kin or far-off fourth-cousins twice-removed
who live amidst the sucking insects, mites, 
and microscopic foes that alter mitochondria    
and bring the canopy-cresters crashing down.     

We know the bonds of synomone and kairomone
even as we snatch the last antigen tests 
and stock them in our bathroom cabinets or pile 
the final N95s in our pantries. Soon we’ll fight
over Paxlovid pills or raid ERs for mono-
clonal antibodies to out-survive our poorer 
sisters, while mother-trees transfer excess
sugars to their roots and send them through 

mycelial threads to lesser ones stressed   
by withering heat, poorer soils, sudden invasions. 
And often, with their own crash amidst the underbrush, 
they’ll nourish a new patch of forest, a line 
of new trees growing straight from litterfall, 
their mother’s duff. Our fate’s green 
with dendritic envy, blue with CO2’s last 
competitive breath. We seldom root

for gene pools that aren’t ours, seldom graft
a neighbor’s goodness onto ours, seldom plant
a flag under which the life-supplies pile up
until they’re high as landfills — someone else’s
waste combined with ours to make more waste,
mountains of waste that won’t compost for years — 
and deny, deny, deny we’re trying to out-compete   
the others clearly flailing on the street. All right.       

Big breath. Perhaps we’re not that bad.
Perhaps we’ve just had too many days of sad.
Saved no time to sit with kids and Doctor Seuss.
Instead, we’ve been busy reading Auden’s master-
class on Old Masters who had it right: how humans
care exclusively for their own plight and blithely
sail on as those around them drown and Icarus
falls from the sun for striving after God knows

what and toward what end. 

Crows in Snow

Out of snow-dark sky near sun-down
flap the dark, ragged shapes of crows
tilting on squalls and gusts and sudden
pockets of stillness plunging toward  
my iced windows, swooping upward again
pecking the necks of others in their pecking-
order — or is it simply sheer, raucous play — 
that wings can shape the wind, tilt, swirl,  
and two or three spin helixes almost
traceable against the sky and a murder
of ten or twenty suddenly storm the air
and hijack white blizzarding to black?

If, in this blizzard, the buzzing shapes
can do this, can I do this — shape
the black floating over white space,
play an identifying phrase against 
erasure, weather a glum narrative, 
spin a grander structure flapping upward 
as crows go almost out of sight, 
seeding clouds with dark intent and then, not — 
just bursting through, like minor storm-gods, 
revealing how black transforms the gloom
of blizzarding sunset to a presence
almost luminous.

Local Freeze

Northerner, stranger, I’ve been visiting my failing mother in her gated 
golf community. Yesterday, I wandered under the gumbo limbos,
thinking of her inevitable descent, while green iguanas scattered 
under the fallen copper succulents. Flat lines of black clouds 
rolled over the Everglades, pelting the land with cold rain, 
then, briefly, almost impossibly, hail, over the wetlands and dredged 
fields, reminding us how fragile the grapefruits and oranges.
Indoors, the TV’s evening broadcast was almost unbearable,
tank columns crushing the suburbs as they advanced on Kiev,  
so at dawn, it’s almost unsurprising to hear herons scream
outside in the bluing jet-stream and something hump and gurgle 
under the roofline, roosts of ibises, perhaps, unsettled by this sudden 
cold snap from the north and mass murder half a world away 
lit on everyone’s CNN flat-screen with their morning coffee, 
bulldozers plowing bodies into mass graves and the newscaster’s 
dim analysis numbing us despite the caffeine hit.

I slip on a coat and slip out to the screened porch, watching small lizards
the color of cement stiff on sidewalks, stuck to their pre-dawn spots 
until sun and body temps rise, but now they’re sitting ducks 
for electric lawn-carts, a few workers rattling by with rakes and shears. 
Beneath their wheels, the sod’s tough enough to harbor earthworms 
still aerating the soil, and lower down, layers of helium push upward 
like optimism, bolstering the earth’s crust where a cold line of ants, 
stunned and listless, makes no advance from pizza crust to ant-nest. 
If I lift my head and look back through glass doors to the living room,
I can see the flat-screen, those columns of tanks stuck outside Kiev, 
their husks burnt from stinger-jets and drone-strikes, punished 
for scorching the earth earlier elsewhere where everything on, 
and under, it, either perished or surrendered, and nevertheless, 
perished. From here I can click the remote, shift to a local channel 
where the morning forecaster hasn’t yet decided whether we’ll dodge 
the freeze or whether all the fruit will perish. 

Neil Shepard edits the new online journal Plant-Human Quarterly. His latest book, How It Is: Selected Poems, came out in 2018 from Salmon Poetry (Ireland). Here is a link to his website:

Copyright © Mudlark 2022
Mudlark Flashes | Home Page