Dawn at Mormon Island

Miles before first light
          we pass the border
                    of the Bluffs renamed by settlement
brokers. The sun,
          with scrupulous edges, casting structural
                    iridescence. We head long
before us: the sun
          itself in that
                    perfect moment unreplicable
before the hostile restaurant, before the bunkhouse,
          before night threaded
                    into an alarming morning:
geese veined the sky. We count twenty-two buteo hawks along I-80 before
          we come to the blind.


We come to the bird blind
          to find it locked, a sodden pair of
                    underwear yards
from the door. Outside
          Alyssa says, “what a hard day
                    to be a different kind of bird.” In the dark
I’m beyond awake. The dawn marks
          nothing: the cranes, already, sounding and sounding
                    the bugles: what’s known prelight—not without form, not void, but
unutterable noise. “How do you describe
          it,” I ask.
                    The blind is not my stupid metaphor.
We watch the cranes from
          a language locked to custom


or custom locked to language:
          the birth of words
                    into gray-fledged
meaning. Morning
          itself becomes
                    a made thing
in my phone.
          When memory stops
                    pics stay—
unlabeled, yes, by naming or
          the doubled-down
                    Swarovski view without
the feel of the banks where
          in soft loesses the earth comes apart.


In soft loesses the earth comes apart
          from the sky.
                    In rills
snow geese and Sandhills thread Vs
          away from
                    the river
roost. There are no so-named dunes
          this far south. I met myself
                    in Nebraska; one hundred thirty miles
west of where my father was born.
          The river doesn’t lead there, but I
                    still look, my clumsy grip
on these binoculars as
          the Platte braids beyond my expectation


of the Platte. Braided beyond my expectation
          of mud, of sharp grass
                    in shrubby flat
circles. What I watch
          thru the camera I will later watch
                    thru the screen, a bird
floating beyond the frame
          Ophelialike, upside-down
                    one broken wing
akimbo; the eagles
          loiter, ambivalent
                    by the kill. I unzip
my files later to listen again to
          the Sandhill trills.


The Sandhill trills fill
          my room which becomes
                    the memory
of the river. My body
          full of summary
                    for the sleepy coos
vibrating beneath
          the plural call
                    until the dawn comes;
so do they,
          awake with what
                    I cannot describe. A sound
claims the day—pulling apart the limit, the dawn torn,
          shredded into pink light.


The shredded pink light from
          Mormon Island fucks
                    me up.
With my Jordan River feeling
          I make a lot of mistakes
                    in my thinking
in writing from
          paths thwacked by notes
                    toward this
moment. Cottonwoods
          shaping the riverine wetland
a cautious focal point where
          each wing gives texture to the line


of another wing. Gives texture to the line
          of the horizon. I take off
                    the binoculars.
The steel-gradient flock:
          a perimeter scratched
                    out. The cold
sets. Me
          in my notebook,
                    my “exterior
experience.” Later Ben shows me the translated spectrogram
          with the axes
                    crossed, transposed
into the crooked
          horizon east down the river.


Pointed east down the river,
          Ben’s 3D microphone
                    makes the prairie,
its bigwig fur
          hysterical. Grief
                    has no meter.
What about sound
          takes shape
                    in triplicate?
          pass past
                    the scape. The state lines
of the river bending in laughter an
          inch deep, mile wide.


Inch deep, mile wide
          repeated river channels meet
                    below the highway.
The path leads to
          the view made for me, screaming
                    nature is fake.
The cranes’
          new diet subs corn
                    for grass, subs
is for was.
          The raveling borders
                    diffracted in the crossing.
The river passes from state to state to state like
          another border tethered to nothing.


Another border tethered to nothing
          but stopover habitats:
                    this broken frame
gilding the landscape. My sight
          doesn’t end
                    where the river does.
The scope extends
          the view, but narrows
                    in breadth, catching
the birds in vignette
          ovals. I hold
                    my iPhone up the eyehole
as the birders take photos. Their cameras
          make a sound, a shuttered shudder.


Without the sound, the shuddering calls,
          the cranes live a different life
                    in photos
by one scientist-photographer
          whose glasses magnetize
                    in the middle it looks
as if he breaks
          them to examine us. To say wild, huh.
                    He shows us
a video he took with another wildlife
          photographer—his wife, who cooks
                    eggs in the bunkhouse kitchen—of an eagle
grabbing a crane’s neck. The eagles are silent
          but the crane calls spackle my chest.


With crane calls spackled on my chest
          I become
                    a bell
sounding across the green
          fields, turning
                    now toward spring
stopping, now,
          weeks later with a late snow.
                    The present
has many modes,
          each iteration calling
counting down
          before they flush, before they leave.


Before they flush, before they leave
          with their thin legs
                    trailing like kite strings.
The sky is never empty.
          The story starts
                    before you in lightening violet streams.
A word has no boundary:
          its edge pushes against
                    a limitless line extending through the day.
Daily repeated beauty gets smeared
          across lenses toward that single
                    pink instance:
the trepidatious sun still approaching “the west”
          miles beyond first light.


Miles before first light
          we come to the blind:
                    a language locked to custom.
In soft loesses the earth comes apart
          from the Platte, braided beyond my expectation.
                    The trills of Sandhills fill
the shredded pink light.
          Each wing gives its texture to the line
                    of the horizon east down the river
an inch deep, mile wide:
          another border tethered to nothing
                    save the sound, the shuttered shudder of
crane calls spackled on my chest
          before they flush. Before they leave


Three Tracks


Katherine Gibbel
 grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she received her MFA in poetry. Her work has been published in Bat City Review, Gulf Coast Online, Tin House Online, Underblong, and elsewhere.

Ben Gottesman is doctoral candidate at Purdue University’s Center for Global Soundscapes, where he is studying how the sounds of nature can teach us about biodiversity patterns and disturbance impacts in different ecosystems, including grasslands, coral reefs, and kelp forests. Intertwined with his research pursuits, Ben writes and performs music infused with his field recordings to promote environmental conservation, and loves teaching kids how to explore the natural world with their ears. 


With special thanks to the Crane Trust, for hosting Katherine and Ben and making these works possible. More information at https://cranetrust.org/