when you say woodpecker

Suggest woodpecker. I’ll sleep on it and tomorrow I’ll see a red-headed woodpecker under the ponderosa. So this is the way the world links, I’ll tell myself, even after I see the woodpecker is a sprinkler connected to my neighbor’s garden hose.


The sound of N. Not the way N looks written on a page, but the way N feels forming in your mouth. Tongue to hard palette.  Sustained.


A fire blanket. That, and he offers his back-up camping chair. Hot coffee in a Stanley thermos. You wonder how he does what he does. What sees him through. But he says it’s simple: You care for people until they learn to care themselves.

“But don’t you mean until they learn to care for themselves?” You don’t want to ask, and so what do you do? You blurt it out. Finesse. Hooves over an open mouth. Wild burro in china shop. But no. He takes your question kindly. He has learned the difference and trusts that you will, too.


What I might have said would have been about the trains and what passengers think at the station: They will come, these trains, and this will soon be over.

But what followed was all rain, he wrote before I did, much of it raw.

Rain, raw. I’ve never felt this. And where I live there are no stations. I rethink my thoughts.


Photo by William O’Keefe. 


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website: https://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

15 responses to “when you say woodpecker

  1. Kathleen Kirk

    So many sensory things here, thoughts, and feelings. Very rich. I said, “Woodpecker,” that one word into the (human) silence Sunday afternoon, reading poems with a friend, because the sound we were hearing was, of course, a woodpecker.

    • redmitten

      so it was also you suggesting “woodpecker”. sometimes i try to connect the dots and lose what else is happening while doing so. this time, just what went on was brought forward. and you got to hear the woodpecker. *bliss*

  2. Katy

    When it comes to N sounds, I can only think of this video. It stuck with me because I was so shocked at the accent I didn’t realize I had….

    • redmitten

      katy! everyone in my family is going to love this because they tease me about how much i enunciate mitten (mit tin) (not: mitn). and really, wow- mountain is mountn? this is crazy fun! (but why does everyone in my family do that n sound, but not me…is it that way for you, also?)

      • It depends on who I am speaking to. If it’s casual friends and family I mash all the Ns like crazy. I notice when at work, talking to business people, I mash them slightly less, and if it’s someone who isn’t American I really try to annunciate.
        I just never realized what I was doing before that video. fun huh!

      • redmitten

        i posted this video on facebook and wow, people sure had some fun with it, too. i don’t know why i enunciate my Ts….like mit-ten (instead of how she was teaching mit-n).

  3. wuffda

    I smash my n’s American style until somebody says “What?” Then I annunciate everything I just said.

  4. so this is the way the worlds links…woodpecker suggested and woodpecker appears…in whatever form. reminds me of a book i read in grad school – man makes himself, by v. gordon childe. do we indeed sing ourselves into being?

    and yes – the man offering his back up camping chair? i get the difference.

    • redmitten

      amanda, i’m adding that book to my wish list. right here right now is more proof of the way the world links. and yes to that back up camping chair(!)

  5. kmerrifi

    Oh, Sherry, what a haunting piece. A wave of golden sadness washes over me.

  6. Rose Hunter

    So funny, the back-up camping chair. And a wild burro in a china shop! And how did you know I was just talking about back-up trees with a lion? 🙂 And there was a real woodpecker last weekend, it was at a little tomato mouth….

    “You care for people until they learn to care themselves” – is perfect, of course. 🙂

    • redmitten

      no way you were talking back-up trees with a lion when i was writing about back-up camping chairs! first the snake steppage and now this.

      • Rose Hunter

        I know right! Freaky….
        Your snake story is way more exciting than mine though, involving an actual live snake. 🙂

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