How Wisely the Owls Chose This Tree
grey in a grey woods, dimly lit even when the white
snow lay underfoot and all trees were bare
to the blueblue sky. Their infants were grey,
grey fluff and later grey-brown feathers,
their greygold eyes peering just above a row of round holes
gnarled into the lip, perhaps pecked by earlier woodpeckers
just below the mouth of their deep crevice hole
hole. Eyes, or merely a trick of our eyes exploring?
No movement, these little ones still as stone
even when their grey shapes became more and more
definable as owls, stepping out from the grey bark
of tree, parent owls a rich brown in the now greening forests.
And the babies, when they enter the light, glow golden
greybrown in the lit forest canopy.
It was probably their fifteenth anniversary because I remember it (I'd have been three at the tenth, my calculation says they were barren seven years) their anniversary on New Year's Eve and I wrote a card, "think of how lonely those first seven years were." I needed a special gift. To buy with my own money. My father and I sought out the Desert Rose pitcher. Franciscan ware. To match the dishes we'd had forever. Plates, bowls, teacups, saucers, salt & peppers, gravy boat, tureen. Nothing ever went on the table in its grocery store container. Now no more milk cartons, but milk waiting cool in the refrigerator like water from a sacred well. Fifteen dollars. I'd saved up somehow. I was tired of boring old pattern. Pink. Flat roses. But the pitcher was a thing of beauty. Just the perfect shape. Archetypal. Women in classic Greek chignons carrying it on graceful shoulders. Guan yin pouring the merciful cool water of life. (I'd not hear of her for nearly forty years, but there was my mother, for a thousand meals, pouring milk into simple straight glasses.) Milk. The only liquid my father'd ever drink at meals. We went first to the furniture store. Then to their annex storage space, and that was magic, the attic over the Colonial Theater, boxes and crates of "household furnishing" but also stacks of old record albums, musical instruments, vaudeville props and backdrops from the theater's day as an Opera House. One of three Opera Houses in a town of 10,000. Dim dust. Sawdust packing. And that perfect smooth china. Below us the reels spinning in the booth, children screaming in the balcony. The sticky red rows of velveteen seats. The pink bathroom with its frilly skirted sinks and fainting couches. The boxes with their delicate round chairs. And the gilded ceiling. We were on a creaking floor above plaster gods and angels with their billowing ribbons wind. Let in by a silent man with a necklace-sized circle of clanking keys. High above the orchestra pit and its twinkling lit snow village, its brass rails and silken ropes. In a room smelling of jujubes, popcorn, rancid butter, and sweat, it's old air thick around our faces. Muted laughter, sparse applause, below us. Our one precious thing smooth in my hand. Then wrapped in tissue, then layers of newspaper. Below us the planets whirling on the face of the Grandfather Clock. The usher sleeping in his velvet suit. The clock beginning to boom, 3, 4, 5 as we descended the fire escape stairs.
Pediatrician Kelley White worked in inner city Philadelphia and now works in rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Rattle, and JAMA. Her most recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books). She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.