Art That Inspires, and is inspired by, poetry: two poems by James Bertolino

Art, Poetry, Writing Creatively

Space Hawk

Where the sphere of actuality
and the sphere of possibility turn
against each other, a winged creature

is flying through the Earth.
Broad rhythmic strokes
propel it through densities of stone

inward to the molten core.
Then, like a red-tailed hawk riding
a sudden thermal, it is buoyed outward,

erupting from the surface
into space, where it disappears
in a shimmer of exhilaration.


“Cosmic Bird” by Leo Osborne

This poem, which inspired a sculpture, is from my book Snail River—published in 1995 by the Quarterly Review of Literature Award Series, Princeton University. Leo Osborne created his sculpture in response to the poem, and it will be up for auction (together with a copy of the book with Leo’s drawing on the page with the poem), at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington. The event is scheduled for Saturday, June 16th—doors open and silent auction begins at 5 pm; live auction begins at 7:15 pm.

Osborne is a Guemes Island artist, and his sculpture reminds me that I wrote a poem inspired by a Philip McCracken painting––Phil is another long-time Guemes artist who, well before Leo arrived on Guemes, was well-known for his sculpture. Back when I first lived on the Island, it was in a rental house about three doors south of Phil and Anne McCracken’s house and art studio. That was the mid-eighties. One evening when I walked up the road to visit the McCrackens, I was enjoying the sound of frogs singing. I noticed that the frogs got louder as I approached the house. When I mentioned that phenomenon to Phil and Anne, they pointed to a small pond near the front door, and insisted that all frogs were quite welcome. Later Phil loaned me that painting titled “Frog Voices”—which, in a somewhat abstract manner, depicted the rising music of the frogs.

Frog Voices by Philip McCracken

I spent a number of evenings meditating on the painting. Then I wrote a poem which I titled “Frog Voices” in honor of the artwork it was interpreting. The McCrackens liked the poem very much, and Phil said he wanted me to keep his painting as a gift. The “Frog Voices” poem was soon to be published in my volume First Credo, 1986, which was the first of two books that were published in the Quarterly Review of Literature Contemporary Poetry Series.

Here is the poem:

Frog Voices

The swamp is silent.

Dawn’s slow voltage
reaches wild currant, and each twig,
each slim living rheostat
feeds light to the blossoms.

Then one by one open the gold
and green-flecked eyes of the frogs.

Over the distant Bering Sea,
over resting bowhead whales
and sea birds at roost,
a missile punctures the brilliance
of morning sky.

Shivering ponds of swamp water
harbor a grim reflection
as the projectile descends its chilling arc.

Suddenly the frogs begin.
Their voices rise,
feathery trebles, croaks and trills
all weaving a shield
of sound.

When the missile explodes
the blinding egg of fire is enclosed
by singing, then is repelled
into cold space
beyond the range
of song.

––For Philip McCracken

Poems by James Bertolino