Finding Compass

They look confused –
four flocks of geese
back-tracking routes they flew
southeast last night.
At least, I’d like to think
they are the same –
these squads of Vs,
disheveled and disorderly,
as if a pre-school child
is scribbling lines across
the jagged sky.

Whoever led last night
got something wrong:
mis-read the compass set
for feeding grounds,
mis-scratched the itch to find
a winter home.
The calendar was right,
but something else went wrong.
What is that common saw
about flock leadership?
Weariness requires falling back.
The leader must have missed the sign
or snubbed the call to acquiesce.

Before I wrap my mind
around the science of it all,
one lone goose breaks through
the clouds, driving south-southeast.
A day behind, she missed
their lift-off yesterday,
tonight’s impatient flying back.
Against the grain,
a different drum,
and all such idioms
cannot explain
her unrelenting wings.

She’s older than the rest,
I fantasize. She’s been around
the clouds a thousand times,
knows anomalies of wind,
weather ambiguities,
the myths of leadership.

She doesn’t care about uplift
or saving energy to cover ground.
No wingmen or honking cheers.
No urge to lead or tilt
of head as they fly by.

And just as black lines disappear
beyond the Douglas firs,
she strains her neck and lowers
regal eyes – amused, I’d like to think,
by one lone raucous cheer
winging upward toward
the clean-slate sky.

By Carolyn Martin

(First published in Carolyn Martin, Finding Compass (Portland, OR: Queen of Wands Press, 2011)

Carolyn Martin is blissfully retired in Clackamas, Oregon, where she gardens, writes, and plays. Her poems have appeared in journals throughout the US and UK.

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