Poems by Robert Coats

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Pelagic Messengers

by Robert Coats

From Canary Fall 2011

Bob lives in the watershed of Blackberry Creek, a small urbanized but partially-restored tributary of San Francisco Bay. He may also be found occasionally in the Tahoe basin, where he is studying the impacts of climate change.

First came the rays,
cruising the cove, wing-tips
flicking the air, spiky
tails jutting up.

Yesterday a dark speckled torpedo--
a three-foot Chinook on her way upriver--
lazed along the shoreline,
eyeing me as I ate lunch.

Today a smooth-hound shark
slipped in with snaky grace,
dorsal fin slicing the surface
to snuffle the high-tide sodden
salt grass at my feet.

Messengers from ocean and estuary
with news from their world of
diatoms, squid and crunchy clams,
of coastal up-welling and oceanic gyres.

News of changes
we have yet to imagine.




Rebellion of the Salinas

by Robert Coats

From Canary Winter 2011-12

Dammed and diverted,
chattering kingfishers exiled,
floodplain furrowed to carbody-revetted banks
the River of Steinbeck trickles
between silt-choked pools, ammoniacal
nightmare of cladoceran agonies:
Aldicarb, Diazinon, Malathion.

Now high in the Santa Lucias
lowering clouds cloak dark peaks.
Slanting rain weaves gray veils
over the chaparral of the barrancas,
soaking the chamisales of the Nacimiento,
San Antonio, Tassajara
and the green shoulders of Soledad.

Runoff gathers in swales
surges the creeks and arroyos,
pulses the mainstem. Leaping overbank
the river nudges sandbags, concrete rubble,
braids delicate ribbons of sediment
across laser-leveled fields, cutting
new channels among the artichokes.

The flood recedes;
clean silt glistens in the pale sun.
At the river's new edge
in runes written
by a stalking heron:
seeds of willow
seeds of cottonwood.


Originally published in the Pudding House anthology Fresh Water--poems from the Rivers, Lakes and Streams



The Earth's Most Dangerous Predator

by Robert Coats

From Canary Spring 2012

Off Greenland,
ice-flow melting beneath his feet,
the bear heads southeast
through spume-flecked gray seas.

Days later, bone-tired and hungry,
he makes landfall at Skagafjordur.
Hauls out, goes shambling down
a country road, exploring his new home.

People gather to see him.
With fog descending,
no darts on hand, the police decide
to do what they do best.

You can watch the video:
the bear lumbers across talus,
alpine fells, pausing
to sniff the wind.

You hear the crack and echo of two shots,
see him lurch and stumble,
the blood-stained white fur,
vermillion congealing

in volcanic gravel beneath his neck.
The policemanís hand, pulling back
a lip to show the fearsome
sharp teeth.




The Marshes at Dark Solstice

by Robert Coats

From Canary Winter 2014-15

Now come the cold fogs of winter
when a seamless nickel sky
presses on the marshes
like long-forgotten sorrow
and a pale disk of sun
barely shows through by noon.

At bay's edge cormorants
perch on rotting wharves
black wings outstretched and dripping.
Dunlins huddle against the cold,
bills beneath wings
awaiting the turning of the tide.

In such marshes by a distant northern sea
my ancestors plied sloughs in punts
snaring widgeons, trapping eels
then hunkered by peat fires in smoky huts,
bleary-eyed and dour, cursing the laird
while they waited for dawn.

Tonight I ply a scarlet river,
tail-lights stretching into the darkís descent
but still hear the mudhen's cackle
tide's whisper, and soft
scuttle of scavenging crabs.

Tomorrow thereíll be solace
in the stalking grace of the egret,
ruby eye of the grebe,
falcon's stoop
and the clean southwest
wind of an oncoming storm.




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