Sandhill cranes by Paul Johnsgard
Sandhill cranes (Paul A. Johnsgard)

I am in danger of forgetting the cranes,
their black wavering lines in the sky,
how they came as if from the past,
how they came of one mind,
wheeling, swirling over the river.
I am in danger of losing
the purling sound they make,
and the motion of their long wings.
We had stopped the car on the river road
and got out, you and I,
the wind intermittent in our faces
as if it too came from a distant place
and wavered and began again, gusting.
Line after line of cranes
came out of the horizon,
sliding overhead.
The voices of cranes
harsh and exciting.
Something old in me answered.
What did it say? Maybe it said Kneel.
I almost forgot the ancient sound,
back in time, back, and back.
The road, the two of us at the guardrail,
low scraggle of weeds flattening and rising
in wind. This is what I must retain:
my knees hit the damp sand of the roadside.
This is what I remember:
you knelt too. We were wordless together
before the birds as they landed on the sandbars
and night came on.