Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place
by Lucille Lang Day
74 Poems ~ 113 Pages
Price: $18.95
Publisher: Blue Light Press
ISBN: 978-1-4218-3664-5
To Order: Amazon

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Being people of modest means, I doubt if my wife and I will ever take a world-wide cruise. We prefer museums and presidential libraries. Pretty boring to most people, I suppose. However, after reading Lucille Lang Day’s, Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place, I feel no loss. Why should I? With the poet as guide, I have become the very image of a peripatetic person. My travel brochure includes Mexico, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, a “rosy-fingered dawn” on the Aegean sea, Athens, Greece, Giverney, France (Claude Monet’s homebase), and many more.

The collection’s title poem provides its structure: Birds of San Pancho is key to the first half, “Part I. Foreigner.” Day writes unforgettable poems about a particular place: San Pancho, in Nayarit, Mexico. This lovely beach community may be the best kept vacation-spot secret in the world. More to come on this. The second half of the title and Other Poems of Place, segues into “Part II. Between the Two Shining Seas.” These poems put readers up close and personal in unique settings in America.

The title poem is worth the price of the book. “Birds of San Pancho,” by my count, mentions 15 separate species. I had never heard of some of them. In curiosity I was driven to either the dictionary or to the internet for images and background. I’m glad I did. Who says poets aren’t educators? I learned about the kiskadee, who is masked like a racoon, sings an exuberant song, and sports a yellow breast. Other stunning species include the yellow-winged cacique, the golden-cheeked woodpecker, the scrub euphonia, chachalaca, (whose song sounds like its name), orange-fronted parakeets, herons, egrets, and pelicans, all displaying a rainbow of colors.

Day’s sonnet “Fiesta” offers the flavor of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which I alluded to above.

All the stars switch on above the street
as fiesta music rises from the square.
Girls in sequined blue jeans tap their feet,
and jacarandas shimmy in their air.
Accordions, guitars, and trumpets sing
for people swaying on the cobblestones
in yellow, red, and blue embroidered clothing
and skeletons who shake their graceful bones.

But I will always be a stranger here
where roosters crow and church bells ring at dawn.
The language comes like birdcalls to my ear;
I want to dance, but I won’t be here long
enough to learn the steps or even know
where the dead stop jigging where they go.

Day, no doubt reluctantly, leaves San Pancho, to highlight birds in the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. The country, whose name means, “Rich Coast” is home to numerous species which are not available to the average American. Her poem “Resplendent Quetzals” describes the parrot’s striking iridescent green and red feathers. They “sit like gods, high / in an aguacatillo tree, surveying the forest:’’ Day’s descriptions of the forest populated with green and yellow-striped vipers, orchids, insects and other residents of this misty habitat, made me want to go there.

Moving on, Day writes about wildlife on the Galápagos Islands. Don’t miss her poem “What the Tortoises Know,” (I was surprised to learn what they know; I should be that smart!). This poem also introduced me to the red-footed booby. These gregarious birds sport feet in other colors including blue and yellow. While Day’s poems are full of delightful descriptions of wildlife, descriptions I found endearing and even whimsical, there is no mistaking the seriousness with which she takes environmental issues. Her poem, “Global Warming in the Galápagos,” bears witness to her concerns:

Three years without rain,
and incense trees are gray, leafless
in what should be the wet season.

Without the trees, where will red-
footed boobies with blue beaks
build nests where fluffy chicks can hatch?

Even prickly pear cacti, looking so much
like clusters of spiny ping pong paddles,
are turning brown and dying.

What will happen to iguanas that eat
the cacti, and lava lizards that nibble
lice from the iguana’s necks and backs?

A warming sea also brings El Niño
with too much rain, flooding,
overheated currents where penguins

can’t find fish, and beaches so hot
that green turtle eggs can’t hatch.
When iguanas can no longer regulate

their body temperature, giant tortoises
and blue-footed boobies will gather
like refugees and strike out for cooler land.

Moving into “Part II. Between the Two Shining Seas,” the poet opens with a narrative poem, “Names of the States.” In it, Day shows the Native American background within the names of 30 states. I was moved to reflect on the debt owed to these noble tribes.

Poems in this section visit significant places such as Cape Code and Nantucket, “Near houses with gray shingles and white trim, / lined up on bluffs that overlook the sea.” We go behind the scenes at a museum in St. Paul, Minnesota, to visit a “whole vault of dinosaur bones,” and a “fossil tortoise, 350,000 years old.” There’s more. Day visits Red Rock Canyon, where scorpions live, some of them five inches long. We even learn about the “Corpse Flower,” at Berkeley Botanical Garden.

Throughout the entire collection whether set in “places” abroad or in America, Lucille Lang Day’s, strongest suit is love. She loves life. She loves people and family. She loves the environment and evangelizes for its health, conservation, and preservation. Reviewing Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place has awakened this reviewer to a heightened sense of “place” in this beautiful world.


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