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james mcgonigal
Poet  •  Critic

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       Learning Cloud

I’m losing birdsong. Something has built its nest
in the branches of my inner ear and flown.
Now every crevice in the foam … What’s that?
I said, Every grey voice on the phone
mutters at me through whiskers.

I’m losing birdsong, my delight in it,
each morning’s quirky wakeup call, the spark
and crackle heard through blazing noon
or when the gloaming’s almost black.
One ear is stuffed with ash.

These days instead I’m learning Cloud.
It started years ago. At four I turned their pages
like a picture book, tracing blue margins
with one finger. Dazzled I worked out
hundreds of words for weather.

Later scribbling nimbus was an antidote
to algebra and solid geometry (not angles
but angels, as Pope Gregory said, calling for
an ancient Waterman’s flexible nib).
Often the whole sky blotted black and blue.

Listening to stratus came next: it’s a complex
of minus-whispers and nearly silent whoops,
an almost all intensely labial language.
Softly softly is the sound of the sky’s plate
being licked with quiet gusto.

Seasons passed and their leaves toonone
listening to the rush of rack more carefully than I.

Now that I’m losing birdsong, what fills most days
is learning to speak Cloud. The lessons take as long
as Latin, but sometimes cirrus streams
straight off my tongue to heaven like a prayer.
Other times I’m staggered by the depth

of silence cumulating, a whiteness into which
all the dear flocks of birds have gone.

Click on the poem title to read the next excerpted poem from The Camphill Wren.