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The Power of Poetry

The Dawnland Signals show for December was such a special treat. We had a wonderful virtual visit with poets Mihku Paul and Penthea Burns, discussing how they came to write poems and how they use poetry to build community.

For this month’s blog post, we are sharing the poems Mihku and Penthea read on the show, but we still encourage you to listen to the recording to hear these women speak their beautiful, meaningful words.

All Dawnland Signals shows are archived at



Etiquette for Beginners

When I wade in,
my giantess toes sink through
yellow sand, fallen twigs, leaves
in their dark decay.
Here and there a congregation of pebbles.
Only water dwellers and lake denizens
can truly know this place,
their intimate universe, home.
Below the surface horizon,                                                                     
minnows dart and shimmer.
Sensing mass, movement, they race from
shapeless danger, instinct,
we name it.
Nature guides us all, if we are willing.
Her wisdom brutal, beautiful.
She asks only that we remember our place,
the gifts we are given.                
And so these tiny fishes flee as
my pale feet plow forward,                        
harrow the soft bottom.                             
For me, a less obvious destruction,
nearly beyond my notice,
but not theirs.              

                                         ~Mihku Paul


Tell Me A Secret

Jackman, my biggest dog
Climbs onto my lap
Wanting to be the only one
For that moment

“Tell me a secret”
I whisper to this
Lanky, brown dog
He kisses my cheek
“That is common knowledge”
I reply
“Come on, tell me a secret”

“All the world is good”
He begins
“It’s just that so many
Do not know this
About themselves
Or the other”
He paused and pondered
His blocky head resting
Atop my heart

Continuing his thoughts
He concluded
“We who know
Carry the burden
To bring this lesson forward”

“When we offer love
Perhaps they will notice
The hunger for love
That lives inside
Perhaps they will recognize
The love they have to give”

Deep brown eyes
Were now looking into my own
“It’s all about the love”
Was his final reply

I paused and pondered
My thoughts resting
Within my heart
“You are a wise one”
I said at last
To Jackman, my biggest dog

“That is common knowledge”
He replied
“Come on, you tell me a secret”

                              ~Penthea Burns

(from The Courtship of Proteus)  *manuscript in progress    *Spencerian
Sonnet #1

Last night I heard the wood frogs urgent call,
awakened by the lonely winters dying.
A song of love and need when in its thrall,
as Nature in us heeds and wants replying.

The year turns swiftly, now that I am riding
seasons measured short in Times mad flight.                                                                     

Relentless in her cruel demand for tithing,
still summons springs sweet and shy green light.
Eostre strides in reckless with her might
and showers us with impetuous hope.
She invokes warmth and music in the night,
awakening all earths children to dote
on the immortal symphony of sound,
and know that Proteus is prowling round.

                                             ~Mihku Paul



A Family of Robins (revised)

A family of robins
An adult pair and two juveniles
Explore the grassy yard 
In front of my house
Shaded by maple tree
Living from this land 
Taking what they need

For much of my life
I underestimated robins 
Then I learned
Their song 
Lyrical and beautifully complex
I just don’t sing like that

The lyrics and verse that we humans have lived by
Authorized us in taking what we desired
Control of this colony
This earth

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. 
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea 
And over the birds of the heavens 
And over the livestock 
And over all the earth 
And over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Who is us?
The mystical powers of creation?
Forces of conception and being?
Or some small man writing to justify dominion and taking?
Some small man who lost what the robin knows
About sustenance 

Pausing to sing

We misunderstand our mandate
Or we’ve been misled

Would the powers that made a robin sing like that
Grant dominion?
Like some greedy, old man
With a glint in his eyes
Passing out dominance 
To grabbing hands
Seeking profit and more profit
By blowing off mountaintops
Damming rivers
Owning water
Poisoning honeybees
Polluting air 
Leaving animals to die on the road’s shoulder

We continue on our way
Finishing with earth
We look to take the heavens next

I want to understand 
How we lost our likeness to 
The creation energy of this universe
In rhythm with earth
Seeking sustenance and balance
Indigenous to land and wind and water
Reciprocity between me
And beings who inhabit this space

I am certain that the powers of the universe 
Intended to grant us 
Not dominion
But responsibility 
Creation, love, and regard for
The fish of the sea, birds of the heavens 
Livestock, every creeping thing 
And all the earth 

                              ~Penthea Burns 

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