Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

PoetrySnaps! William Root: Query for Owl at Spring Equinox

Courtesy William Root

In this week’s segment of KNAU's series PoetrySnaps!, poet William Root uses cold, snowy imagery and an encounter with an owl in his poem Query for Owl at Spring Equinox. Ever since he saw snow for the first time as a kid, Root has been fascinated with finding words to describe it.

William Root:

There had been a small snowfall and it was followed by a drizzly rain. I was just feeling miserably cold and shivering and so on. Then I heard an owl. And for some reason his ‘hoo hoo’ sounded like he was trying to tone himself up to get it right. That's like me trying to write a poem.

I've always been fascinated by the fact that birds, generally, come from dinosaurs, and I snuck that little bit of information into the poem. This is in honor of that owl.


Rainpocks in
old snow,
black twigs
in lunar sheen.

Owl, from what perch tonight,
rinsed in drizzle,
will you drift that haggard single vowel
you’ve stolen from the moon?

* * *

Whichever humdrum suburb
you haunt,
your autumnal
presence—reminiscent of dry leaves
and warm fur twitching
in your grasp—
will occupy innumerable dreams
with grim wonder
as you cry your muted cry across the sleepers.


Puffed up like some Diogenes
overly aware
of your familiar errand,
your fingers gone to claws
on this endless quest,
your ancient eyes
lamps of their own,
you know perfectly well
we who begin as dreamers
close our lives
in sleep
and yet on those lips of horn
always the same question
asked in the same key.


Yours is the angelic race
from reptiles evolved,
winged raptors conjured
out of subtle cunning
and its curse.
From which
of the mineral-eyed
have you arisen, your scales
elongated into quills, your head
great as the moon
now warm-blooded in you, ravenous
for an answer to your query,
the insatiable rhetoric
of your unwringable neck?

* * *

Only your
Dry tongue, exposed
As you hiss
At us, hints
of your origin.


I ask you, Owl,
ask you
as new rain falls
on old snowpack
beneath twigs shrunken dark:
How far have you come?
How far do you mean to go?

About the poet:

William Root was born in a blizzard. He went on to work in a shipyard and a copper mine before becoming a professional poet. He is the author of more than a dozen poetry collections and is the recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships. Root worked as an in-school-poet for several Native American schools in the western U.S. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages.

About the host:

Steven Law is a poet, journalist and educator based in Page, Arizona. He is the author of a collection of poems called Polished.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.