Two Bird Poems by Marsha Mathews

I don’t usually post notes to accompany poems, but these were of real interest. And I know the readership of this blog is interested in process, as evinced by the lively discussion of revision on “White Nights.” Let me encourage contributors o send work with explanations or questions of writing process.


                                                Driven by cancer’s dark-winged threat,
                                                she finds her way to a forbidden shore
                                                where thousands of seabirds
                                                nest in the underbrush.
                                                This time, it’s the human
                                                who’s out of place —
                                                no highways or high-rises, here.
                                                Only scrub palm & sea oats
                                                & the calls of a thousand gulls.
                                                Here death seems a natural thing:
                                                cartilage, sand, & eggshell — one,
                                                she can almost forget
                                                the cool tubular stuff of hospitals.
                                                On the beach
                                                shipwrecked memories wash jagged rocks.
                                                A white-faced pelican swoops down,
                                                its pouch a loose-skinned rumple.
                                                On fat webbed feet, it flip-flaps
                                                up to her. She strokes its wing,
                                                pallid but warm
                                                against her open hand.
1 in 3: Women with Cancer Confront an Epidemic    (Cleis Pres)

Pygmalion’s Song
                                                            St. Pete Beach, Florida
                                      Every evening at eight,
                                      the heron
                                                swoops & soars
                                      through pink-streaked sky,
                                      a silver sheath—
                                      futuristic, majestic, prehistoric: one—
                                      On spindly legs,
                                      lands light
                                      among tall grass & prickly pear,
                                      blends into willowy sea oats,
                                      Only to appear
                                      again beside a pool
                                      where a stone heron waits.
                                      One lack leg tucked,
                                      he stands
                                      eye fixed to painted eye
                                      so still so long, he seems himself a statue.
                                      Huge, seven feet tall, paint-chipped,
                                      legs & tail merging into basin.
                                      Content? Complete?
                                      Or is it in the wait
                                      we rise?
                                      Water trickles beak to breast,
                                      tap-taps ivory pebbles,
                                      swirls free
“Pygmalion’s Song.” Zeus Seduces the Wicked Stepmother in the Saloon of the Gingerbread
            House: Myth, Fairy Tale & Legend for the 21st Century. Ed. Susan Richardson. Boise,
            ID: Winterhawk, 2008. 22-23. Print.  ISBN: 978-0-615-19969-6
“Pygmalion’s Song” alludes to Ovid’s story of the sculptor who fell in love with his own creation, having carved a beautiful woman from ivory. I watched a blue heron at my sister’s house in Florida stare at a statue without moving for several hours, and voila, the poem! “Pygmalion’s Song” first appeared in Zeus Seduces the Wicked Stepmother in the Saloon of the Ginerbread House:  Myth, Fairy Tale, & Legend for the 21st Century (Winterhawk Press).
 “Sanctuary” portrays a woman fed up with medical treatment and hospitals who makes peace with death on a rare spot of pristine Florida coastline when a pelican approaches her. This poem was first published in 1 in 3: Women with Cancer Confront an Epidemic (Cleis Press).

Marsha Mathews is an Associate Professor of English at Dalton State College, GA.