by Sandy Stark

Going to See the Cranes: for Gretchen Schoff


A few conversations, questions,
a book I pressed into your hand,
a note you wrote in return:
I thought this a modest exchange.
I planned to attend another class
you taught when I had time,
to send another poem
when I wrote one.


Now, on the day others meet
in your memory,
I go to see the cranes.
In the Baraboo hills the trees blaze
red and yellow and gold
against an October sky
that, as sure as this day is warm,
will bring a cold day tomorrow.
White-bellied birds rush out
from under a bridge
and over ruffled water below.
A row of trees turns
the narrow road into a golden lane,
paved with golden leaves.


The sun warms the air
and one large bumblebee,
taking its last, lazy taste of flight.
A sign says the fenced-in field
holds the African crowned cranes.
Instead, I walk to the circular house
at the top of a rise, and then,
as I arrive, the cranes
emerge from their pens,
feathers dripping from their sides,
and something wonderful begins:

from behind a hill,
the clatter of unpenned cranes--
bugler to bugler calls;
cranes in cages reply.
I see their bristled crowns
and downy throats rise;
they spread their enormous wings;
and then I hear them sing.


“You send me such lovely things,” you wrote.
I kept that little slip of paper for weeks,
pleased to give you something back.
But today, stopped in my tracks
in a circle of color and sound
I have perhaps found a better way
to thank you, by going to see
the red and gold and black-crowned cranes
who sing on an autumn day.

-published in The Wisconsin Academy Review, Spring 1996