These days in Sonoma County, at first light the air is rich with the scent of the earth and the sound of bird song. Dawn is a transitional time, like dusk, when the animals around us are more active.
The aubade, or the dawn song, is an ancient form of poetry that originated with the Greeks. A traditional aubade is a song from a door or window to a sleeping woman. In his poem “First Light,” Poet Laureate Emeritus Mike Tuggle plays with this ancient form, making the poem about his own awakening to his mortality.
Tuggle has lived in Cazadero in western Sonoma County since 1981 and always seems to capture what it’s like to live under the sway and power of a redwood forest.
When the poem begins, the speaker awakens to the sound of a dog howling for his lost love at first light.
The sound startles the speaker so much that he doesn’t know who the voice comes from, himself or the dog.
How many of us have experienced a moment like this when we, in the sticky grenadine dawn between sleep and wakefulness, find ourselves not knowing where we are or who we are?
In this human moment, the speaker turns to the natural world for example.
He lies down “like the sky and listens” for whatever change is coming his way, whether it is from inside himself or from the natural world that surrounds him, the “bottomless woods.”
“First Light” by Mike Tuggle
From way down deep some dog is howling,
to the moon, to his mate, to his misery
From way down deep in my dream I hear him
and when I open my eyes I hear him
Neither awake nor asleep, I lie here
like the sky and listen,
Unsure if it’s coming from me
or from the bottomless woods.
From “The Motioning In: New & Selected Poems” by Mike Tuggle (Petaluma River Press, 2016).
Iris Jamahl Dunkle is Sonoma County’s 2016 Poet Laureate. Read her Poet’s Corner column biweekly in Sonoma Life.