Poems by David Chorlton

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Bach and Polar Bears

by David Chorlton

From Canary Winter 2015-16

David lives close to the Sonoran Desert in central Phoenix in the Lower Salt Watershed, at an elevation of 1,124 feet with an average annual rainfall of 7.7 inches.

As music endures,
the adagio in Bach’s
Sonata for violin
enters a time of sadness

when the Earth spins from industry
to escalating appetites
while the notes defy

extinction. As often
as they are played
takes nothing away. They are neither

cut down nor hunted
to the edge of existence
and do not melt

as a continent does
when ice shrinks from beneath
animals to whom

music is language beyond
translation (I once saw a bear
stop and listen
to a violinist play Bach) and

when they have nothing
left to hold on to
a silence

surrounds them like the one
that follows the final notes
as though they would never
be played again.

Changing Tense

by David Chorlton

From Canary Summer 2010

The present tense is threatened with extinction.

“I see a koala” could disappear from speech
in seven years according
to a Brisbane Times report. Speaking

will become an act of remembrance
says the BBC

citing references to the Iberian lynx
and none of the languages spoken in India
contain words to protect
the peacock from poaching

or pesticides. “The wings on that albatross
measure twelve feet across”

might be replaced by a question
or embellished by a gasp of wonder
at such a bird and turned
into a quote from a long dead sailor.

“What is a panda?” will be answered
with silence. Even some nouns

such as tusks and mane
will appear in sentences referring to the past.
This is happening in English,

Spanish, Chinese.
It is happening.

Soon we will say
“It was happening while we watched.”

Evening Panorama

by David Chorlton

From Canary Fall 2010

Across land that rolls and buckles through
a life zone before it becomes desert
changing colour from darkened ochre
to deep shadow and away
into a lighter blue where it ends
in a jagged rocky line against
the Mexican sky the view flows and tumbles
down from the point nightfall enters
the canyon and roosts
on an old battered sycamore
where vultures fold up their bones
having stared from the thermals all day
at the earth that spun beneath them slowly
ever slowly to the day's last
carrion shred left drying on a sun bleached stone.


by David Chorlton

From Canary Winter 2013-14

A cat with one paw in the night
moves slowly on a dirt path
where the sun expires
into a cool skin of light
left behind with each step.
He alone sees what he sees
and he is alone
where the ground gives beneath
his easy weight. His sudden face
parts grasses and his feet
soften stone when he stands
looking down at his reflection
in shallow water pooled
in a hollow. He can move
as fast as a guess disappearing
in trees, or be frozen so still
that his heart stalls
while the blood beneath his fur
keeps flowing. There he goes,
down a path into a thicket, with a spine
that dips between his shoulders
and his tail, and a flowing stride
that hides the tension
in his web of nerves.

The Deep Frozen Desert

by David Chorlton

From Canary Winter 2011-12

Beneath the ice light of the northern sky
in a mountain six hundred miles
from the nearest tree,
where frost runs deep into stone
and the only star is a signal
from a disappeared world

the seeds of a desert go along
the blue tunnel for storage
in a vault where they wait
for springtime to flower
from snowdrift and memory.
Here is mesquite and a crystal
of cold to preserve it; here

are prickly pear and sage
held in trust for the day
when the sun reappears; here
are agave and ironwood labeled
with ink that glows in the dark
like each golden segment
in the scorpion’s tail

and the hourglass of fire
on the spider who crawls
between the stacks
of silver packages bearing
the indestructible seal
of night-blooming hope.

A copy of this poem has been interred along with some seeds from Arizona at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway.

Watching a Sloth

by David Chorlton

From Canary Spring 2015

The common view of a sloth
is from the ground, looking up into the leaves
where it lives above time
and a human hour is meaningless
to an animal slung on a bough
below eagles and above ocelots,
                        who risks the descent
every eight days
to deposit a cake on the ground
where the moths who inhabit
its fleece lay their eggs. Theirs
is an arrangement perfected
                        through millennia
by which the moths pay back
for where they live
with algae for the sloth to lick
and digest, as slowly
as the leaves that take
thirty sunsets to pass. The sloth
                        picks what it needs,
eats and breeds, exists
at the pace of waiting,
cradles its young and offers little
to see for observers,
                        outside of the face
when it turns to look
at whatever is looking
at it, and because of the permanent
smile and eyes
we might think
express contentment
                        at leading a gentle life,
it appears, from where we stand,
to be floating through a world
of green rain, where it is possible
to hang from Heaven by three toes
on each foot and need nothing
that is ever out of reach.

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