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Jim Hill Jun 2018
It was by our old garage door
beneath a spot long favored by birds
to build nests of mud and string.
The neighbor’s cat had not yet found it,
though by dusk its deathbed would be
merely flattened grass and a tuft of down.

Perhaps I had seen this one
the day before, its head turned skyward,
beak gaping in a torment of appetency.

It was a juvenile—
not long expired, I knew,
one black eye neither open nor closed,
but stilled in that way
the dead gaze without seeing.

Its plumage was nearly complete:
the tell-tale russet breast,
the mottled gray.
So near to taking its perilous leap—
one unforgiving day, or maybe two,
had been the space between
flight and fall.

This was a lovely work of feather and flesh,
an inchoate beauty,
its pinions and bristles nearly made.

I nudged it with my boot
and glimpsed beneath the wing
a naked leg and trident foot—
all reptile scale and claw.

With less than a thought,
I let the thing roll back
upon itself, wing upon leg,
to await the coming
of the marauding cat.
Jim Hill Mar 2018
It was a taking-away for you—
eight years of Providence
slow unfolding—
like cloud-shadows
passing over low, green fields—
as the obedient soul
yields to its story’s ending.

Perhaps I shall yield as well
at a point I cannot foretell—
though you may see
an altered course:
a truck weaving up
the blind-side of a hill,
or the lonely iceberg
sitting utterly still.
Jim Hill Mar 2018
Pale purple crocuses
crowd beneath the apple tree
by the stone foundation
warmed by a mid-March sun

April, I know, brings spring
but also snow
feather-flaked and heavy
bends the creeping rose
low to the garden’s cheek

If the cold should come again
will the huddled crocus
mustering crowd
of luminous stem and petal
peek head from snow
or bow at last
a quiet submission
to harken Spring
with its early passing
Jim Hill Dec 2017
At 104th street
a great bulk of igneous rock
heaves itself from Central Park—
wet black-green in halide streetlight
like a breaching submarine.

I hadn’t seen this place before;
still, I passed, all a funk,
mind inside itself (a typical brood),
moving past with just a sidelong look.

By a low stone wall
at the foot of the cliff, a man
(black parka, pants
too long, high-top shoes)
leaned as if in muttered
collusion with the ground.

He spoke to someone as I passed
(I figured he was drunk).
“Fella,” I heard him say,
as if to me.
I stopped, and looking back,
saw from across the wall,
crouched on the side of the cliff
a raccoon, black-masked,
capacious gray coat,
tiny hands.

It sat there watching me,
or rather, just watching,
attentive to some
attraction I didn’t see.

And then another.
And another.
And all along that black expanse
must have been twenty raccoons
(I didn’t think they could be so varied)
quietly foraging, awaiting,
I came to understand,
the man in the black coat.

He threw bread to them
like the old pigeon lady in
Mary Poppins
and five or so gathered nearby
on the other side of the wall
not minding his humanness,
only eating.

“I come out here every night,” he explained.
“I don’t got a girlfriend anymore,
so I come out here
and feed them to **** time.”

He tore a piece from a half-gone baguette
and threw it to a little one.

“There’s like fifty of them now,” he said.
“There were twenty when I started;
they have four or five babies every spring.
Nobody knows they’re here except me.”

As he spoke, a baby raccoon
climbed up a sapling
by the wall, extending its sharp black nose
toward the man who held a scrap of bread.
The raccoon took it unreluctantly.
I flinched at the thought of tiny
raccoon teeth missing their mark
on my index finger.
But habit was fixed and easy
here between man and raccoon.

“They’ll come up and sit on my shoulder...”
he said at last and then trailed off.

I stood and watched for several minutes—
this assembly of raccoons
along the black cliff
and the man who called them “fella” and “baby.”

At last he said with satisfaction,
“They call me the raccoon man.”
Deciding he had said his bit,
I gave a soft, enthusiastic whistle
between my teeth
as if to say,
“Well done.”

At 105th street, I felt remorse
for not having said more
to the man who drew
his nocturnal congregation every night
right there on Central Park West.
And in a gesture of regret,
I turned slightly back as I walked
to the see his black form
bent over the low wall
dispensing bread.
Jim Hill Aug 2017
The great horned owl,
the naturalist told us,
has senses so wonderful
it can hear our hearts beating in our chests,
the rush of blood through our open arteries.
That's how, she said, it hunts its prey,
tiny mice hiding beneath the snow.
Discerning their tremulous pulses,
it bears down on them like doom from the pine branch,
reptile talons outstretched upon faceless snow.
Does the mouse’s pulse, I wondered, quicken
as the owl’s Valkyrie wings descend?

For one—me—unhunted by the raptor
there is a longing to be heard
to bare one’s chest to the aching ears of the bird
to beat the worried rhythm of my soul
to this listener, hoping vaguely for reply
or for succor.

Why this desire for this secret discourse,
this singing one to the other,
beating heart to bending ear?
We move, each day, among throngs of us,
crowds of us, bumping, passing,
every soul beating its peculiar drumbeat,
every street a percussive chaos—
joyous crescendos, dirges, incantations—
yet we are as silent to one another
as the timpani of the ninth
to its feverish creator.

This bird sits within its wood and wire enclosure
hissing at the passerby, irritated to be awake,
pine-cone shaped but for its feather “ears,”
absurdly lopsided on its swiveling head.
Still, it listens and looks
with a knowingness that makes me
linger hopefully by the cage-side.

For this infinite moment, I will whisper
to the interested, will pause discreetly
for the owl to look in my direction
and, with no more than a show
of its black, impassive pupils,
hear me.
Jim Hill Apr 2017
There is something about churches—
the sanctuary filling slowly,
brass ***** pipes arrayed like halberds
in a medieval arsenal,
stooped ushers handing out programs
as the congregation
accumulates softly
like snow.

And the pulpit—like a queen
in a hive of wooden pews
all of polished walnut,
stands hushed and expectant.

(I know within that pulpit
there is a place to put cough drops,
a legal pad, second pair of glasses.)

Sanctuaries have a peculiar smell,
redolent of potted lilies,
Youth Dew perfume,
aging hymnals,
the suspired breath
of five hundred faithful
lifting their voices to that soaring
Byzantine dome.

I was glad for your presence that day,
the sound of your marvelous
voice, the warm sense
of your shoulder next to mine.
You cradled a hymnal
benevolently in your hand
as though you were baptizing a child.

"Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!"

I sang more loudly, I suppose,
for gratitude that you were with me.
I held my hymnal with more care,
sang and looked up more hopefully
to that pulpit than I might otherwise
have done on any given Easter.
I prayed more ardently for good things to happen,
thought more kindly of the man
beside me who wouldn’t make room
when we three entered the pew
but stared blandly ahead as if
waiting for an opera to begin.

When the minister spread his arms
in benediction and bade us all go in peace,
we stayed to hear the postlude
and watch the Easter crowd
wind its way to the narthex
and spill out into the boisterous
parade on Fifth Avenue.

I sat there and listened with you
as the organist played his sonorous farewell.
When I was a boy sitting next to you in church,
you might gently pat my thigh
when the organist’s final note
passed through the sanctuary
like a great bird in flight.
You would smile as if to say,
“You made it through the whole service!”

On this Easter, when the hymn began,
and the mighty ***** notes swelled around us
like God’s own voice in song,
it was the thought of your shoulder near mine,
your hands upon the pew,
that halted my singing for a moment,
to let a silent bolt of longing
pass through me
like a solitary dog crossing a road.
Then it was gone, the thought,
but so, too, was your palpable nearness,
the idea of your voice
ringing through the church
like a celebration.
Jim Hill Feb 2017
Cardinal couple
at the bird-feeder today,
he all in red,
she in orange-gray.

They’re not like us,
this mismatched pair,
she on the snow below,
he circling in the air.

They never part
but seldom unite,
conjoined by love
and freed by flight.
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