“The Mystic Owl” and “Vines”

“The Mystic Owl” and “Vines”
Photo by Todd Steitle on Unsplash

The Mystic Owl

—After the painting by Sabra Crockett, "Mystic" 

At dusk, a barn

owl puts on a riding coat

of gray-white feathers

and mounts a horse of air.

Galloping away,

he brings silent death

to mice and voles

in fields beside our home.

Once filled, he tugs reins

of gravity, the horse pulls back

and arcs across the farm

to a favorite branch

on an ancient cherry tree.

Perched, he meditates

in metallic starlight

against the night-black trunks

of cherry, oak, blighted elm.

The owl's mystic temple

is a latticework of branches,

roof, chimneys,

where he turns the two

white saucers around each eye,

collecting faintest sounds

distant rain, heartbeats

of robins tucked in nests,

rabbits rustling in warrens.

He makes one last flight

across the sparkling creek,

the cool dark meadow,

guiding his invisible horse

back to the barn

where he hangs

a gray-white coat

across the weathered door

like a broken patch of sun.

Another dawn, and we awaken

to water cattle, scatter hay.

We hardly ever see

the owl, except in paintings

or in dreams, so we bend

in our daily chores,

knowing he lives

just out of sight,

which somehow makes us happy

as we work into the day,

trying to be wise.


i. Reading Your X-Ray

Viral proteins

tumble through your ribs

like dandelions across

wet fences.

Blood vessels, like dogwoods

that normally bloom in pink,

turn to leafless limbs.

Deeper, in the world

of your body—

pulsing rivers, sweeping culverts,

swales and basins

in the unseen spaces

where air should flow,

fill with viral snow.

I think you won't return

once they check you in.

ii. Home Alone

I prowl the yard

under clotheslines

where you hung our shirts

like second selves, empty cuffs

dangling in the air.

Past hollies, to a garden shed.

Inside, a wood stove molders,

iron claw feet anchored

to old wood, its chimney choked

by bird nests, twigs.

This is your spirit

turned to iron.

Sometimes it wheezes

when the wind picks up

as if trying to speak

as you do on your sickbed—

orange sparks

of fever beneath your breath,

viral cinders on your tongue.

As you breathe, the wind

drifts in the stove's

rusted gut, searching

under ash, burnt sticks,

toward a hidden unwavering flame.

iii. Return

I sit porchside, one cat

on each porch stone,

waiting for your hands.

When you arrive

I help you up the steps.

All around, plague surges

in a blizzard, while here,

mid-morning calm—

dew hanging in bracelets

of wisteria and ivy.

Our cats curl

on garden tiles

licking grass-soft fur,

then their paws

to disinfect and heal,

rasped tongues swirling

layers of whiteness,

thick as my throat

on your arrival, sweet

as clotted cream.

iv. Dis-enchantment

Two weeks home,

the laundry flaps

on its own, the woodstove

wheezes, the wooden beams

inside our house tick even

when we're gone.

Nothing is as it was. Around us

plague mutates in a storm—

clouds of virus

unroll and recombine

in oceans of our veins.

All summer

we're stuck at home

as ivy grows across the house—

up walls, chimneys—

a sinewy vine, latching on

the way we do,


in a tightening spiral,

each leaf edge

tangling the days.

So we cook and clean

in solitude

as ivy crawls the roof.

This high, swallows flit

in the smallest spaces

between branches

like spirits of the dead.

And each night we sleep

thinking of disease, mortality,

while the streetlights

sidle by the window

tracing circles of cool light

into your hair.

Above, a familiar

brush of wings, talons

ticking gutters, as the swallows

finally close their feathers,

settling to rest

in temples of the eaves.

About the Author

David Cazden

David Cazden has had work in Passages North, Nimrod, and elsewhere, and most recently in Still: The Journal. His second book of poetry is The Lost Animals (Sundress Publications, 2013). David lives in Danville, Kentucky.