Wintering Ground

— Colin Bailes

Early summer, and the saucer magnolias

open against a branch of green

and mottled black. The aloe vera

send up barbed blooms, and hummingbirds

thrum at the nipple, suckling nectar.

The wren who takes up harbor

in the carport each season returned last month,

each night tucked into a corner

in the rafters, head buried beneath a wing.


All winter, I failed to keep alive the roses, the night-blooming cereus. Even here, my failures follow me—the only root that seems to thrive. Bird-shadows on the lawn dominate my vision, difficult to discern their swift, blurred bodies. A colony of eggs clings to the underside of a leaf. When the eggs hatch, moth larvae decimate the oleander.


Morning walk in the garden, I stop to examine

the green shoots sprouting at the lemon tree’s branch-tips,

ones not clustered here the day before.

                                                               Earlier this spring, I broke

with my fingers the dried stems, tested for the dead wood,

careful of thorns, all for this small recompense.


Rosacea sky, verdigris lichen on a black oak branch. Squirrels raid the sunflower seeds from a bird feeder. Wind curling the sword fern into combers. Silken clouds shedding layers like a chrysalis. Some soil is so dry it won’t take water. Root systems become more complex the deeper the root. Profligate bleeding-heart vine invades the salvia and milkweed. Water slides off the peak of a root ball. With it, the dirt displaced. Dew-heavy, the oleander bows under its own weight.


A hundred different bird calls gathering above me in the pines,

wind shuffling and bending the oak branches,

rustling leaves like surf. To receive

such abundance, undeserved. A mockingbird grips

the lip of the stone bath, then forages among slender stems

of spiderwort and woodsorrel. Hidden in the laurel’s hollow crown,

I found a ghost nest made from snapped twigs, hanging moss.

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