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January 2023

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After a career teaching English to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, Nancy Arbuthnot now enjoys spending time with friends and family, reading, writing and translating poetry, and leading art and poetry workshops for the homeless in Washington, DC. Her recent publications include Blue Rhapsodies: Poems of a Navy Life, about her life as the daughter of a navy test pilot and as a professor at the United States Naval Academy; and two collections of illustrated poems, Postcards from the Border: Meditations in Ink and Watercolor, about her experiences on the US-Mexico border, and Remember Me Singing: A Catoctin Mountain Alphabet of poems and illustrations of the flora and fauna of Catoctin Mountain Park in MD, where Nancy was Artist-in-Residence in 2020 and 2021. Nancy has also co-translated Waves Beyond Waves, poems about Vietnamese American poet Le Pham Le’s journey from Vietnam to America. Her current projects include “The House on Dahlia Street: a Parenting Memoir” of poetry, prose and watercolor sketches.

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What is life but mist
a fog rolling in
erasing distance
erasing nearness

sound muffled, sight blurred
touch only remains
to guide our footsteps
to thrill our fingers

lightly my fingers
trace your lips, eyelids
red pulse of heartblood
catch of your breathing

mist clears to vision
piercing us keenly
here in this city
love, where we linger

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Poised at attention, arms
down, one leg slightly ahead of the other,
hair pulled back into a pony-tail
disclosing the delicate bones
of a face still a child’s —

Briar Rose in a glass case, waiting.

She raises her flute, and the notes weave
an invisible chrysalis
around us. We too are sleeping
behind glass in a wakefulness

of the garden waking from winter:
sticky wet wings of butterflies drying,
the secret migrations beginning.

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1 - Berry Woods Preserve, Late August

Summer lingers longer now
In the woods, along the shore.
Trees hold green, terns dip and bow.
Summer lingers longer now.

Years ago, oaks waved red boughs
in mid-August; no terns soared.
Summer lingers longer now
In the woods, along the shore.

2 - Autumn Sonata

sycamore, oak and maple
conduct a light percussive music
of leaves released to leaves
already fallen

and the abandoned hammock
flips over and over in the wind
filling, spilling,
refilling with light

3 - Winter Birds

to the bare oak’s tangled choirs
they come to glean--

tufted titmouse, dipping
bobbing black-capped chickadee

nuthatch pecking head-first
down the tree--

and the cardinal
stitching a red rope through the brown scene—

oh, the joy they bring

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ancient species
from the Pliocene

deep diver

what can we who come
to pay homage offer

but witness to your fading
white mandible blaze

flutter and fall
of your banded fin’s curve?

how can we bid farewell
except in imagination trace

the deep migrations
to ease you home?

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motionless in tidal wash
neck stretched long, awaiting

the most propitious moment
before striking—

then slowly, elegantly, powerfully
rising, stitching the sky with its flight

spangled iridescence
rides the swells

splashes, flutters
rock-rests, wings spread:

oh, whatever the weather
storm winds or following seas

to reign with such regal detachment
over the deeps--

aglitter with minnows
at ebb tide and full flow

black-capped acrobats
hover and plummet


how far
the harsh cries carry

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