Magpie's Song

Six A.M.,

Sat down on excavation gravel

by juniper and desert S.P. tracks

interstate 80 not far off

     between trucks

Coyotes—maybe three

     howling and yapping from a rise.

Magpie on a bough

Tipped his head and said,

          “Here in the mind, brother

          Turquoise blue.

          I wouldn’t fool you.

          Smell the breeze

          It came through all the trees

          No need to fear

          What’s ahead

          Snow up on the hills west

          Will be there every year

          be at rest.

          A feather on the ground—

          The wind sound--

Here in the Mind, Brother,

Turquoise Blue”

               Gary Snyder

I heard Gary Snyder say, or rather sing, this poem once at the Dodge Poetry Festival. He prefaced it by saying that the poem came to him in the form of a song, a melody integral to the poem.  And so when he came to the magpie’s song (the part in italics), he sang it for us, as the magpie (or the magpie in the Mind) had sung it for him.  I love the gesture of letting the end of the song come back to the left margin. The poem enacts that age old movement that we call “pastoral”– the greening of the mind in a moment of respite, from the interstate, from the promises to keep.  Turning away from the man-made world, the speaker enters into “the peace of wild things,” and something of that restfulness, that letting-go of fear, stays with him as he comes back, inevitably, to his journey.