Swans: Streaming White Crosses
February 9, 2017
“Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air —
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A Shrill dark music — like the rain pelting the trees — like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds —
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, I your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed you life?”
— Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
I went to the Skagit Valley to see snow geese, but they were not in their usual places. Instead, I saw swans — trumpeter swans, I think, although both trumpeters and tundra swans overwinter here. Mary Oliver’s images — white crosses in the sky, black feet like dark leaves — capture the swans’ presence so perfectly.