For the Birds Radio Program: John Oberholtzer Poem for All Souls Day

Original Air Date: Nov. 2, 2000

In honor of All Souls Day and Dia del Muerte, Laura reads John Oberholtzer’s “Cemetery. “

Duration: 4′32″


Every week or so, “For the Birds” will feature one or two bird poems. In honor of All Soul’s Day and Mexico’s Dia del Muerte, or Day of the Dead, I’m reading a poem by area poet John Oberholtzer entitled “Cemetery.”


A hawk cringes in a tree. “Oh know, the Family Crow!”
“Caw, Caw, how are you Hawk?”
Then another, “You’re not supposed to be here.”
From behind, a black pointy flash, “Let us play brother Hawk, five versus one.”

Hawk does not like this game. Wearily he drops from the branch.
Crows croon in his ear to the horizon.

Each spring, at a lake in a cemetery, new souls arrive.
They stretch and jump in their skins and experience the oddest sensations.

A vegan, animal rights activist awakes in the bowels of a willow as a mink.
“Oooh, I want an egg today!” scurrying off to the lake’s edge.
A pious flock of geese, in former lives Wrigley Field bleacher bums, surround the mink.
“Child, you must not indulge, think of the future, consider others.”
The mink, agitated from past restraint, replies, “Whatever geese, where are the eggs?”

Two common terns, one a former crack addict, the other a cancer victim, circle gracefully under a warm blue sky.
“The fishing is good today, eh, sister?”
“Yes, and I feel slender, sleek, and powerful.”
“Do you close your eyes just before you hit the water?”
“I do, and then open them to see the emerald backs of these tasty minnows! Keearr, keearr.”

An ancient language imprints on the new arrivals, squawks and moans, peents and growls, head movements, tail placements, false charges.

A mother of two, commonly held to be taken before her time, with a masters degree in herpetology, fine tunes the stealthy movements of a great egret.
“Oh, look at all these wonderful guppie,” she coos.
The guppies, former passengers of a school bus that drove off a cliff, bask in the sun curious about their tails. They swoop down the long neck of the egret like a playground slide.

Years later, high above a North Dakota prairie, the hawk, a former tool and die maker in a multi-national corporation, chances to meet one of the family crow, himself, a former senior vice president in the same firm.
Crow greets the hawk with a nip at his tail, “Brother Hawk, it is good to see you.”
“Yes Crow, I remember you and your friend, so delicious that day.”
“Oh, good Hawk, I was sad about that, but that is past, let us forget it.”
“Thank you crow.”
Hawk, high up here do you ever wonder what is beyond, what it is all about?”

“Yes, Crow I do, but more often I feel it here when your kind comes and makes me alive. Some days, I am irritable and want to do like your friend. But I don’t like to eat crow.
Mostly I admire your strength, enjoy your company, and excite in your flirtations.”
“Yes Hawk, it is good to be with others; to debate, dance, and sing.”
“Crow do you know the eagle dance? Will you do it with me?”
“Hold on tightly Hawk, for I am smaller than you, but rigid, black and strong.”

Talons clasped they circle, falling, pulling hard against each other. In those moments, in the whirling of feathers, sky, and companionship, something like truth spins out of the vortex their wings sculpt in the sky.