I headed for higher ground this morning,
climbing a ridge against a freshet’s flow,
whose April sound came less as song than yammer.
The hill’s flanks were slick, my scaling slow,
and because of the steepness I leaned my face close to earth—

or rather to clotted leaves and rock—
and so I noticed something I’d have otherwise missed:
the season’s first red eft. Last week,
snow fleas gathered on the southerly sides of tree trunks,
but by now the fleas and snow have rushed off together.

What’s troubled me slightly ever since
is how I responded to that harbinger salamander,
as earlier I had to our phoebe, back
in the lilac, flicking her tail at the upstairs nursery.
We still call it that, although our children have gone.

I always felt their departures came early.
And now it feels as though everything comes early.
For example, two hooded mergansers, afloat
last week in that small stretch of pond that shows open water.
Signs in every quarter—spring and hope.

I might have felt my old heart flutter
with joy, or succumbed to despondency and doubt.
What bothers me is that I did neither.
I attribute this to how my years have stretched out,
but contrarily, it seems my poems grow shorter.