Sunday, April 1, 2007


I tramped along the bed of a dried up stream.
A downcast stork trudged toward me.

Without exchanging greetings
We passed each other by ...

Janis Baltvilks

Everywhere i traveled in Lithuania and Latvia I saw storks. Because i am here for the "Poetry Spring" festival, I am arriving as the storks arrive. The storks bring good luck, so nesting platforms are built to attract them. They are seen on steeples, telephone poles, and following the farmers as they turn over the soil in the fields.
Before I left Maine, I had been working with a group of Somali refugees in Portland, for an 8 week poetry project. One of the things that they told me was that storks bring good luck, and that they try to attract them to their houses. In Latvia I bought a book called "Latvia - Land of the Storks", which showed the migration routes for the storks. The storks fly two basic routes from Africa to the Baltics, one along tha Atlantic Coast, and the other eastward to the eastern end of the Mediterranean and down into Africa to, yes, Somalia, so my friends in both places could be seeing the same birds, their luck interconnected.
Unluckily for the storks, and other migrating species, their migrations take them through Iraq, and the beginning of the recent Iraq war, the "shock and awe" phase, took place just when the storks were beginning their journey north.

I had been working with Somali mothers and their first thru third grade children. The kids were writing poems in English, the mothers were writing poems in their native language and then I was having the kids translate the poems for me. The kids told me that the women had written a poem about me. The women would only laugh gleefully when I asked them about the poem. The kids said that it referred to a Somali story, and tried to tell me about it. I wrote a poem based on lines that the kids gave me. The white bird in the poem is, yes, a stork.

What the Somali Women Told Me

She tells me that my long beard
is as useless as the tall grass
surrounding my house like weeds.
I tell her that I
am a man of wissdom, and luck.
A white bird sits on my roof.
Once a woman carried me
on her back.
I could see everything.
I felt I could fly,
like eagle, like owl.
Her breasts are large with milk.
Her fingers are covered with jewels -
rubies, emeralds and gold.
She says:
Your beard is empty.
The wind fills your house.
The birds have flown away.

Janis Baltvilks

The poet I most wanted to meet in Latvia was Janis Baltvilks. I had been asking about nature poets, and everyone I asked mentioned Baltvilks. He was an ornithologist, edited a birding publication for young birders, and wrote short, compact, haiku like poems, many featuring birds, especially storks. I asked Janis Elsbergs to invite Baltvilks to my poetry reading in Riga. We did not know if he would be able to come, as he was recovering from serious axe wounds received when a friend lost control and attacked him.. Baltvilks did come to the reading. I was reading in English, and Ingmara was reading the poems in Latvian. In the middle of the reading I read several Baltvilks poems, and Ingmara read them in Latvian i watched a smile light up his face.

I suggested that we do a book of his poems in English, from Blackberry Press. Rita Laima Berzins translated the poems from Latvian to English, and I published a bilingual edition of his poems, Called The Skylark Will Come (Blackberry Books, 2004, 112 pages, $13.95)

Here are several poems from that book:

Forests, forests.
Bodies of water.
The church's reflection in the lake.

How gently,
how deeply
I am rooted here


At the end of a sultry day
a bitterish fog above the meadowsweet:
poetry that mends and heals


Warm mist
after a summer shower

How I love
this life!