Poems by Tobey Hiller

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From the Left Foreleg

by Tobey Hiller

From Canary August/September 2009

Tobey lives near Mt. Tamalpais at the base of the Lucas Valley Watershed. She’s not far from Las Gallinas Creek, the Petaluma River, and the many waters--rivers, creeks, seas--of the San Francisco Bay and its headlands.

From the left foreleg of all horses,
they drew—the Persian miniaturists.
Each horse was every one.
If the verb doesn’t work, God explained.
Now we are each ourselves

under the veil of circumstance:
the windy moment
you guess and plan for,
stitched by chance and heat.
The story of art has crossed a desert.

A four-footed animal gallops
with one leg leading, ribs gallant.
Such running makes time lovely, but
the blind man’s horses belong to Plato.
They canter to a prehistoric tune.

Run! we say,
or: lie down, be still
along the waters,
make me a pasture in your gentle eye.
Listen: blue thunder of their lyric hooves!

Inside the book’s corral
the herd whinnies and steps
with many delicate feet.
Flesh is gold; flesh is garbage.
We bet on their legs.

Burden and beast:
we harness these two words.
Horseflesh tastes like dog; their teeth
end up around our necks. As goods,
all creatures are the same to us.

But look: they are clouds, or surf.
They can scream like lions, rampant,
all known weather in their eyes.
Nothing is like another thing, and
what we know by palm and stroke

is what we stole and bartered,
hills clouds years.
Deaf highways.
Precisely a thunder gathers,
noble and dark.

Carries a blood news
out of meadows and cities
into the hand as it writes or paints
or rocks the cradle, and
what we still desire
gallops right off the page.

Horse liturgy

by Tobey Hiller

From Canary Summer 2017

They are beautiful.
They are beautiful.
They are beautiful.
wind. liquid. ungemmed crown. none
of those tell it prance as goes.
eyes of shadow. soft mind
sidestep hidden. toss head. lyre
neck. drum thunder. sheaves and float
of mane and hooves. saga flat out to end-rhyme.
centuries, we have walked near them, the
footprints prove it, always drawn them,
caves prove it. tracked their pathways.
plains and cliffs they understand them
with their legs. old, older
than we are, they
made grass grow green and wide,
rode prairie till it opened.
smelled spring in tender shoots
under snow. traveled, mountain
to jungle and into plains. made it up,
from 3 toes to one, from stub
to mustang. built themselves long legs
and memory, big teeth, steady
mile-eating back, strong
mind. eyes to see sidewise,
blow of ruffled breath. rear
and stampstop. glance kick. snake dance.
strike water. hear ripple. velvet muzzle.
scream and nick. song nick & blicker.
to watch them run
is to know motion.
They are beautiful
They are beautiful
They are beautiful

I Read, He Plays

by Tobey Hiller

From Canary Winter 2015-16

While Crow—or some relative—
is sliding down windshields and roofs and hills in the snow,
or biting some unsuspecting dog’s tail in the park,
or chasing cats around a courtyard
and waddling off all acackle,
I am watching him on-line,
researching the habits of his kind.

The way he figures me out
is just what I did when I was small:
he watches.
He looks.
He notices pattern.
He thinks: today is; tomorrow
will be. And then
he tests it.

I know this because he’s there, watching me
watching him. When
I was young, I slid down snowbanks too.
Slippery’s its own reward.

He knows we’re dangerous. And not, sometimes.
He recognizes faces.
He can tell the difference.
If he were larger than me,
I’d watch him like that too.

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

I Wonder

by Tobey Hiller

From Canary Winter 2015-16

Crow is perhaps a tyrant,
certainly an invader.
Napoleon? Genghis Khan?
Shock & awe?

Does he change the world,
cause bird migrations, leave new
cities spread wide and pecked,
devastated kingdoms?

Squirrel no longer runs along our fence
to the water. Squirrel lost a recent altercation
with Mr. Black and his uncoy mistress.
The little birds, even the plump enthusiastic robins,
opt for any early worm, but
do not bathe these days
at Crow’s watering hole.

His shoulders glint.
He struts and steals and figures things out.
Familiarity breeds doubt.

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

Last Year's Sorrow

by Tobey Hiller

From Canary Winter 2015-16

Was it theirs?
Last year I found a crow baby,
dessicated & half-buried in grass, hard by
the back garden gate. Head
thrown impossibly back, wings
hardly pinioned. Was it theirs?

Crows mate for life, and
crowbabies grow up slow. For three or four
years they teenage between zoom and
fortune, play fake doom
and boom
before they settle down
to all that family labor.
This year,
did they send their babies successful into sky?

An ancestor of mine, Zilpah Hall,
married at 24 in 1804,
bore 9 children,
Ardelia, Lydia, Alonzo,
Ruth, Abigail, Sarah,
Rowena, Mary, Fanny.
She was always
pregnant, bearing, suckling.
Alonzo, the boy,
died at just over 1 year.
I know this (though not
how Zilpah wept,
binding up her sorrow
in silence, bent
over the washtub,
dripping into laundry)
because his sister Rowena
made a sampler
listing her family’s names,
and their dates.

At the bottom
is a prayer for Alonzo.

This is my prayer
for the crow baby,
dead before he fledged,
and for
his siblings,
who fly now,
and argue,
and bathe,
and watch me,
for the hope
I bring as water.

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

Mr. Crow Wipes His Beak

by Tobey Hiller

From Canary Winter 2015-16

Mr. Crow wipes his trusty beak, this side, that,
on the fence, struts
with his rolling gait
down the fence-top highway,
bull-necked Sweeney among no nightingales,
looking here and there.

Is he surveying his territory?
Checking for hawks?
Alert to the shadowed flicker
I must make on the window
when carefully carefully
all slow molasses
I move to keep him in sight?

What is in his black and burnished
mind? What shines
in his sight?

From the author's new manuscript, Crow Mind.

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