“Calling the Owl”

Let us hear your faint vibrato and absorb
what is invisible, wild and nearly gone.” — Terry Blackhawk

Every time I read “Calling the Owl,” I can picture the poet standing still in a snowy meadow just before dawn, listening for that which is “wild and nearly gone.”

Terry Blackhawk is an acclaimed Michigan poet, so I’m especially proud to introduce her to readers who haven’t met her yet. She’s the founder and director of Detroit’s InsideOut Literary Arts Project, a poets-in-schools program serving over 5,000 students per year. Terry began teaching English in 1968 after graduating from Antioch College. As Terry explains it, she “took up writing poetry” when she was already teaching it to her students.

“I thought, ‘If I’m asking them to do this, I should have the same experience myself,’ ” she says. “I fell in love with it. I became a poet. It’s who I am.”

Poets, novelists, and essayists are often drawn to the unfettered beauty of nature and wildlife. Yet most of our work is carefully shaped, polished, and edited before it gets published. (This might be one reason we’re intrigued by things that cannot be captured or tamed — or face extinction?) If you could write a poem or a tribute to something in nature, what would you honor or explore? — Cindy La Ferle

By Terry Blackhawk

This time the owl eludes us
where we stand trying to call him in
with his own voice,
which we’ve captured on tape
to release to the predawn woods.

Press a button. The air flutters,
rushing from our black box
what is hidden from us —
wing-like quaverings —
soft bursts of song.

If light mutes him, shadows offer hope,
and we listen so intently into them
the snowy meadow
suddenly seems wider, brighter
with news from beyond its perimeter.

Don’t lift, I almost pray,
don’t disappear.
Day will break soon enough.
Let us hear your faint vibrato and absorb
what is invisible, wild and nearly gone.

Mist thickens the silence, promises
patience, echo, sound not sight.

I will let that fluty tremolo find,
fill me, give voice
to emptiness. I hold my breath to sustain
the long vowel of night.

— Reprinted from Body & Field; Michigan State University Press; 1999 —

This post is part of a weekly poetry appreciation series. Want more? Please click on the Poems to inspire section in the CATEGORIES column at right.

–Photo by Cindy La Ferle–

8 thoughts on ““Calling the Owl”

  1. Beautiful thoughts in Terry’s verse, and just as beautiful images evoked by them. If I were to write a tribute to nature, it would be to the stars, and the way the constellations connect in story, and are heavy with wishes and wonder.

  2. Cindy, thank you for sharing Terry’s amazing work. I love reading poetry, and especially when the words bring to mind images in nature. I was especially touched by last stanza – “the long vowel of night” is a work of art, all by itself.

    I look forward to exploring more of Terry’s work!

  3. Cindy, If I could, I’d write a tribute to trees small trees or large imposing trees – lone trees or clusters of trees.

    They intrigue me. Come to think of it, I just might write that tribute this week and post it on my blog.

  4. Glad to know everyone’s enjoying the poem so far — it’s truly a beauty!

    Joanne, I love the idea of writing about the constellations; stars top my list of inspiration, too, especially when I’m up north where the sky isn’t as polluted. And Cheryl, I’m a tree woman too… can’t wait to read your new post.

    I’m always awed by Lake Michigan — it’s so vast, it seems more like an ocean to me, making me feel humbled and small (in a good way). If I could write a nature poem, I would write about that, I think.

  5. Another thought-provoking poem.

    Owls are a mystery, it’s why we’re fascinated.

    I loved the lines you quoted and the one at the end, “I hold my breath to sustain the long vowel of night.”

    The poet saw the owl as an embodiment of her loneliness. I see them more as the cycle of life; a voice of community, the silence of death.

    Light, flowing water and the tides. If I were a poet, I’d write of these, for the essence of constant change as reality.

  6. I loved reading this out loud.
    Thank you for sharing it.

    How to pick something in nature to write about?
    I’m swirling with sunsets, birds, butterflies, tropical flowers, and waves.

    I’m sure I’ll post a few thoughts soon.

  7. Thank you Cindy for sharing this! I think for me it would be ‘the wolf’ lately! As I connect to the feminine self which has been so often abused in nature, in us and I see the strength that always existed and continues to exist for us as she re-emerges as wholeness for those who still seek Her presence. 😉 blessings to you, Jenn

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