- The Great Blue Heron
M.A.K., September 1880–September 1955
As I wandered on the beach I saw the heron standing Sunk in the tattered wings He wore as a hunchback’s coat. Shadow without a shadow, Hung on invisible wires From the top of a canvas day, What scissors cut him out? Superimposed on a poster Of summer by the strand Of a long-decayed resort, Poised in the dusty light Some fifteen summers ago; I wondered, an empty child, “Heron, whose ghost are you?”
I stood on the beach alone, In the sudden chill of the burned. My thought raced up the path. Pursuing it, I ran To my mother in the house And led her to the scene. The spectral bird was gone. But her quick eye saw him drifting Over the highest pines On vast, unmoving wings. Could they be those ashen things, So grounded, unwieldy, ragged, A pair of broken arms That were not made for flight? In the middle of my loss I realized she knew: My mother knew what he was. [End Page 72]
O great blue heron, now That the summer house has burned So many rockets ago, So many smokes and fires And beach-lights and water-glow Reflecting pinwheel and flare: The old logs hauled away, The pines and driftwood cleared From that bare strip of shore Where dozens of children play; Now there is only you Heavy upon my eye. Why have you followed me here, Heavy and far away? You have stood there patiently For fifteen summers and snows, Denser than my repose, Bleaker than any dream, Waiting upon the day When, like grey smoke, a vapor Floating into the sky, A handful of paper ashes, My mother would drift away. [End Page 73]
carolyn kizer (1925–2014) was the author of eight books of poetry, including Cool, Calm, and Collected: Poems 1960–2000, released by Copper Canyon in 2000, and Yin, released by BOA Editions in 1984, which won the Pulitzer Prize. She also wrote and edited several essay collections and anthologies. In 1959, she cofounded Poetry Northwest, for which she served as editor until 1965. From 1966 to 1970, she served as the first Director of the Literature Program at the National Endowment for the Arts. Appointed a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1995, she resigned in 1998, along with Maxine Kumin, in protest of the lack of diversity on the board. Kizer is known for her engagement with feminism and political affairs, as well as her masterful use of form and meter. In addition to the Pulitzer, she received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, the John Masefield Memorial Award, and the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award. Born in Spokane, Washington, she lived in Sonoma, California, and in Paris.