“All The Animals Came Dancing”

by Denise Sweet

Somewhere between nowhere and shadow
You held still and quiet; a quick slip and
You would totter over the edge of
The world, taking with you ancient
songs of love, of devotion, of longevity, 
songs that celebrated the simple elegance
of living in balance.

So many whimpered in your absence:
The throatsingers tried in vain to
call you back, other winged creatures
felt lost and cut off from the harmonious
cranesong that once trumpeted
across the marshlands

It was in our ignorance we fell silent,
Helpless anxious to be of use;
we began to think of bogs and swamps
As eerie, ugly and useless.
We drained those windigo wetlands, paved 
Them over with asphalt or planted crops
that floundered or refused to take root

Believe us, aashigsug,we tried to fill
and give function to the emptied camps
of the Whooping Crane. Or were we
fumbling to fill that empty nest
in our hearts shaped by your absence?

 * * *

We are told by the Old Ones
That it is inborn in all beings alive
to return to the place of its beginning,
to rise and sweep with what strength
is left and begin that wondrous trek
towards home, no matter the distance
no matter how difficult the passage.

And so it is aashigsug.  Shy, secretive
And cryptic in coloration, one day
In the bright mist you appeared.
As in your own emergence account,
You stood before us, waiting for us
To send out a simple prayer, to properly
greet you by simply standing still
You stood before us
elegant, erect and majestic in form.
You stood before us, a hooded shaman
From the farthest sky, a stellar space
Out of range of the naked eye.

Through the bulrushes and overgrowth
Of slender reeds, your mate steps forward
and with a slight but mutual bow and brief
address, you wander together, winding through
the wet meadows, springing unto a sandbar
and then suddenly a flawless lift into flight
punctuating the sky with prehistoric
angles some have never seen.

It has been 400 seasons since you have
presented a clutch of chicks, treasures
of the horicon.  Some indispensible
guiding spirit came into the hearts
of humankind and coaxed you out
of the shadows.  This joyous birth
is a ripple away from the impossible.
While you nudge your brood into
Thicker, safer confines, we sang songs
Once again worshipping the ground
you walk on–
and all the animals came dancing.

For more of Professor Sweet’s poetry, be sure to attend Poetry Night: Animal Poems! at 6:30 on Thursday, September 25 at the Neville Public Museum (210 Museum Place, Green Bay).