“I am Here,” “A Small Map of the Stars,” and “An Adventurer”

“I am Here,” “A Small Map of the Stars,” and “An Adventurer”

I am Here

"Do you know why birds sing just before dawn? Scientists believe it's to tell their mates that they made it through the night, as a way of saying, "I'm still here." Maybe that's why we sing, too, why we create art—as a way of saying, "I made it. I'm still here."
– Jeff Goins

He takes to his branch each morning, lingers there

Finds his gentle, yet firm grip on the wood with his small claws

Steady, he welcomes the fresh air

The sun on his strong beak

The orange light peaking through the high buildings

He closes his eyes

Takes in the soft breeze on his black feathers

Enjoys the cool wind

Quietens down — steady

“I am here” he announces, leaning into the wind

In the early light, before the onslaught of cars,

The oncoming traffic that struggles below on the street

There is this gentle dance

Notes whispered into the day

“I am here”

Moving to a certain place on the branch

He smooths down his feathers

Makes himself presentable

Then opens up his wings to the air

Flying upwards in the blue sky

He takes some early morning dips and dives,

Curving first one way, then the other

his song wakes up a few more birds, who echo his chorus

They fly close,  accompanying him

with their gentle chorus moving out into the day

A Small Map of the Stars

Dedicated to the memory and vision of Pius "Mau" Piailug

He sits on the beach, holds one earth stone in his palm,

turns it over a few times

finds a true position for it on the sand.

he digs it in, naming the stone aloud,

Machemelito — the Southern Cross.

slowly more stones follow, forming one complete circle in front of him

they reflect the positions of the stars that rise in the evening.

although old,  Mau moves with purpose – with sea vision

he is stocky and muscular, certain of what he is doing.

this small, robust man from the island of Satawal, Micronesia

can sail without equipment.

with steady, open eyes, the children observe him.

They are still, careful to absorb his fingers’ motions on the hot open sand,

as he creates one unifying pattern.

Then he moves his hands together, angled down, showing

how the winds travel near the water

Here is patience, the connection of humans to sea, to sun, to birds, to fish.


studying the different speeds of the wind

Mau will guide them until they learn how to sail on their own

without sextant or compass

Until they too know their direction home.

Pius "Mau" Piailug was the youngest of six traditional navigators that some young Micronesians contacted in the seventies. He was from the island of Satawal and knew how to navigate without a compass or any modern equipment from one island to another, perhaps a hundred miles away across the open sea.

An Adventurer

                      This bird in flight

                          Rises in the sky


                                    Close to the moon

                                                        Beak out firm


                                                         This his flight path

                                                                             As his wings propel him


                                                                                                His eyes watch ahead

                                                                                                                     As his body leans into the wind


                                                                                                 This his grace dance


                                                                                                                     Wings outstretched

                                                                                                                                        Sleek and wide


                                                                                                                    His black feathers streaming

                                                                                                                                                            In the cold night air


                                                                             The brisk wind ruffles over him

                                                                                                Yet he moves a fine arrow in air


            White stones fall against black sky


                               Harshness rains down


                               Yet his sleek body soars

                                                                     Flying direct - straight ahead


                                                                     The darkness surrounds him

                                                                                                          But he persists, remains on his journey


                                                                                                          As the white moon sifts through the clouds


                                                                                                                             This bird flies past small houses

                                                                                                                                                  Their owners deep asleep within


                                                                                                                                                   Past the river’s secret knowing

                                                                                                                                                                     Her wind sailing


                                                                                                                            Past the church steeple 

                                                                                     The clean white roof in the small, slow town


                                                 The stones that stand steady by the river

                         Waiting on the side of the evergreen mountain


     This bird rides through the hard hail, undeterred

An Adventurer

About the Author

Dorothy Johnson-Laird

Dorothy Johnson-Laird is a poet and social worker who works in New York City. She received an M.F.A in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Dorothy also has a passion for African music. She has published music journalism with worldmusiccentral.org. Her poems were published by Aji, Cantos, Pomona Valley Review, and Pedestal Magazine, among others. Her poetry was also published in, "Alchemy and Miracles: Nature Woven Into Words."

Read more work by Dorothy Johnson-Laird.