Many links to Gary's work on the web are located at the end of these two poems.


See the Winter feature on Gary's press, Defined Providence


For Gary's chapbooks visit Defined Providence


Gary's book is forthcoming from Salmon Press featured in this issue.


For more Poets
Gary Whitehead Gary Whitehead

The Compass of Small Tongues

At the feast of dragonflies the sunlight, invited first,
bursts out of a grin the pond water makes when water-
snakes come up for air. They could be turtles surfacing,

their little yellow eyes breaking out of black skin
like seeds. But they are snakes, two of them, and they ride
side by side, sister ships, into the one dimension—

shimmering, yes, as though afraid—the two of us paint
on the still pond. Mystery and wonder, they break us
into light and ripples; into damsel and widow skimmer;

into dust falling on water; into mayflies who,
living just a day, learn nothing of love or what it means
to live as a winged thing, or to consume food

in the open air. And the pond grins wider—the maker—
till the parts of ourselves we thought we knew turn to grass
on the other side. But we have known each other

longer, and will survive this summer as we have
all these seasons, these days, these snakes that break us.
Let the mayflies lift off by the thousands, hatching

dreams of being. Let the damselfly be a dragon
in the fantasy that this pond won't drain when weeks
go by without rain. Only in the drought of us

do we know where the snakes go when they dive deep.
We see the dried mud, the boredom of weeds; we smell
the stench of dead nymphs. But who can say where snakes go

when water is high and they plunge, as they do now,
again, because we are here together, or why, when
the surface stills and the dragonflies forget their wings

for a moment, we take shape long enough to see ourselves
in the water, mysterious and wondrous, before we sink
into the particular creatures we are, and move on?


Come dark, they drop
out of the barn's slotted roof
like a flock of birds trapped in black gloves,

a loveless, ravenous
brood of clenched leather
winging eager mouths into the bowl of sky.

Their hunger is a flower
to which they fling a song
we cannot hear because we cannot hear,

and this song,
when it comes back to them
comes back to them with the news

of what is in between
and what will feed,
and they read this news and carry off

the pollen of night
—all that knowledge—
like the black, black butterflies we make of them.


More of Gary's poetry can be found online at the following sites:

"Sisyphus" in Beloit Poetry Journal

"Midwifery" and "Potluck" in Connecticut Review

"Arboretum" at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

"Churchill" and "The Wake of the Boat" in Salt Hill Journal

"Lazarus" at the Lowell Review

"Postcard from the Coast" in the Christian Science Monitor

Prose in the Christian Science Monitor :

"A Question of Morels"

"Finding the Tree of My Dreams"

"The Sun's Last Embrace of the Season"

"The Call of an Owl and Iowa Earth"