Deep in Fourth Grade
She softly cradles an ant,
hides it in her palm during math.
Better than long division,
it creeps along her thumb.
Her tan eyes follow this friend.
Teacher tries to grab her with divisors,
remainders. Some kids thrive on this work.
Others scratch rainbows, moons,
on lined yellow paper.
Three glance secretly at the class goldfish
who rise and glide through their tank
past scale model castles and bubbly mermaids.
This girl finagles a bathroom pass,
skips down to the windy playground,
sets her ant free on the swing set, cheers
as it climbs towards the sun. Back in class,
she watches a pigeon just outside the window.
It rumbles and coos in a melodic tongue
Made from sounds fuller than pronouns like “it,”
verbs like “doubt,” compound words like “dreamless.”
Are they going to attack me,
these odd two-legged things?
Their pack leader has a fur face.
Small ones circle me, make screeches—I feel
their silent vibrations in my flesh.
Mouths opened wide show white teeth—
are they tough enough to crack shells? Should I be scared?
Impressed? I know this pond. Beavers, egrets, ducks
and I share it. Who made the two-leggeds come?
Big one’s hairy mouth wiggle-woggles,
some signal to its young. I retract my neck,
hide head in my shell, then softly peak out.
There’s a gap between two younglings.
I slip past them, stumble on stones, hit the pond
fast. Did these odd ones think I was slow?
I slide through water. They stare as I disappear.
Do they eat with their eyes? Nice try! I’m gone!
Refugees from rushing northern night,
we come with long necks held straight,
legs lined up behind, bellies and wings between.
We’re flying pencils. What do we write?
Gales, mountains, blizzards form our world.
We call with four note glockenspiel chants
that echo through November’s marsh.
Yellow maples and willows guide us
to this autumn home. We glide,
land. Our feet softly scatter water.
We wade far away from you.
We forage through winter,
feast on boneless critters and plants,
vanish sometimes into mist.
Red capped heads will pop out to show you
our presence until we call and dash
northward with the springtime sun,
back to our home where night slips away,
day hugs us. We’ll stick in your memories
while we forget you.
Cosumnes River Preserve, California 11/13, 1/15
© Paul Belz
Paul Belz is an environmental educator and writer based in Chico, California. He tells us, “My poetry appears in a number of magazines and anthologies, including several editions of Living In the Land of the Dead (an anthology on homelessness published by San Francisco’s Faithful Fools Ministry); Poetalk Quarterly; Just Like Cabbage, Only Different; The Poeming Pigeon; Blueline; and the anthology What’s Nature Got to Do With It? I won honorable mention in San Francisco’s Beat Museum’s poetry contest in 2008. I edit WHO?, an occasional collection of earth-based poetry. Many of my prose articles on travel, natural history, and education appear in magazines and on websites. “Deep in Fourth Grade,” “Quick Turtle,” and “Cranes’ Truth” are from my collection, This World That Won’t Shut Up. This little book reflects on ways people do or do not notice the world around them, and on ways the world and its creatures might respond to us.