Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

The handrail’s wooden slats
mimic themselves in shadows
lining the boardwalk.
Three people leave as I arrive, we say
our good mornings and
the day is mine.

At boardwalk’s end, I sit
on an iron wrought bench
listening to the morning’s
symphony of birdsong,
crickets and wind
crashing currents that
rustle across two seasons’ grasses.
Last year’s bone white cattail remnants clump
shelter for ferocious marsh wrens
who perch askance shooting stalks of new growth
and warn me off
like cartoon birds
their tiny tails rise and fall
as they screech me gone.

In the distance
a gadwall hen pushes air
against the plump tenderness
of her rising breast.
Two others join her—
thrumming a whooshing retreat
to protest my arrival
to protest my decision to sing along
or simply to feel the feathered strength of wings
propel them upward across their wet domain
leaving me grounded
amidst a smell of death and wet fecundity
that lingers in this living marsh.

We cycle
dying and rising
season after season
this marsh, this lake,
one in a region of
prairie potholes
scoured into earth
by ice age glaciers
filled now with rain and snow melt
nesting grounds
for nomadic bug eaters
that migrate to
make Benton Lake home
so I can sit on this iron wrought
on the end of a boardwalk
that juts itself over this prairie pothole
filled to the brim with Montana’s abundant
wet spring surrounded by a symphony of song
this is me
this is we
this is everything
the cry of the red winged blackbird
rises in my throat as
I write.

A shout out to Pamela Sayers who provide the prompt at We Write Poems this week. Check out the link for more observational pieces.

16 thoughts on “Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Oh so beautiful! Makes me think of another time… another place. I couldn’t have known it would all disappear so soon. Wet nesting grounds, still there, but still lost to me… in a salty depth, rich with wildlife, but missing me… do you think that is soul, missing soul? Beautiful write!


  2. Brenda, I have been to three different nature preserves in the past ten days. I felt right at home with your words, even the gladness of having the space to myself, for that quiet communion that simply takes place when I venture there. Could see the birds, their antics, and hear their songs. Love it and love this very common ground we hold between us. Montanna is a favorite space to me, and never seems all that far away from Wisconsin, in my mind. Thanks for the communion,



  3. I came to the wildlife centre with you, watched the bugs, the birds and the flowers. Definitely it is birds WHO make our lives joyous. Your poem is gorgeous. It’s probably my age and upbringing, but I felt it could do with a little punctuation, though nowadays it seems that anything goes.


    • Thanks Viv. I always write my poems first, then go back and punctuate them. I can see that this might need more, too. I appreciate thee feedback…I’ll play with it some more.


    • Phew! I’m glad I didn’t offend you. Have you seen Margo Roby’s piece on Enjambment today? Her second example, a gorgeous poem, has almost no punctuation: enjambment gone mad IMHO!

      I sent a link to your poem to my naturalist daughter, and she loved it too.


      • No offense Viv! I know Margo’s tackling enjambment today, but I haven’t made it over there yet. Soon. Thanks for spreading my poetry around, Viv. You are a wonderful person. I know that because you agree about birds being “whos.” 🙂


  4. I am definitely in agreement with using who in referring to the birds! I found it so lovely how you open up the poem with what really happens before we can be “alone” with our observation of beauty. The politeness, the transition, and then ahhhhhh. Well done! The contrasts are terrific and the ending is stunning.


  5. I love the way you use the words, not always in expected form, but unique. This one will repay reading several times. Have you read it aloud? That helps me when I revise. My internal ear doesn’t catch everything, I have discovered. As for the who instead of which…I did that recently in a poem because which didn’t work. You go with what works for the poem. I still had a lingering thought for the grammar police but I left the who in 🙂


    • Thank you for the reminder to read aloud. I usually do, but overlooked it this time. I think I’ll come back to it after a week or two passes.

      We should write poems about the grammar police one of these days……


  6. Meditative and well-illustrated… I don’t think much needs to be altered. (If pressed, I might say it could be condensed a little bit, but that’s my style, not necessarily yours.) What stands out the best are the personalities of the birds, your insistence on belonging (right from “this day is mine”: love it!), and your justification of it by that communion with the natural rhythms. I think it’s good. 🙂


    • Thank you Joseph. When I revisit pieces I can always find areas to cut. I’ll let this sit a week or two, and see what I can do. I’m glad that you like the poem.


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