To the Pileated Woodpecker by Jacob Stratman

To the Pileated Woodpecker

Just outside of Moab, after a long night
of navel gazing, I looked up and out
to the tops of the cliffs, red rocks,
where the rising sunlight caught a hard line

and slowly, irreversibly lowered. I walked,
frozen and hungover, down the clay road
not knowing how long I’d have to keep
moving to meet the light, now changing

the rock face’s color, sharing itself.
But I knew I couldn’t remain still
in that tent, ill-prepared for early spring
frost, ill-prepared for the desert, ill-prepared

for ill preparation. I didn’t know
much about hope then, but I knew I hated
being cold. I’m not there now, though,
but I’m cold, running down this road,
on the homestretch, before I wake up
the boys for school, thinking about Moab,
looking up at these fall pin oaks, the sunrise
cutting a hard line across their tops.

Above me, far away, the pileated
woodpecker looks like a buzzard—
red dot, dark body, patient in its rhythm.
The closest I’d come to this biggest

woodpecker was childhood Saturday
mornings jammied in front of the TV.
Now in this new place at this new age
on the woods’ edge, I love its massive head

leading the rest of it from tree top to welcomed
tree top, immersed in sunlight, in all this hope,
yet it’s sad to know that I couldn’t see it
clearly, that I misplaced it for something else.

by Jacob Stratman

Editor’s Note: This poem’s smooth movement from nostalgia to now draws the reader into the narrative with an expectation of realization, and yet the last line deftly upends any simple conclusion.