The Sand Hill Cranes



As you may know, Ricky has written a couple of previous Travel Poems for WONDERLUST, one on legendary film director Antonioni’s Italy  and a highly personal poem about his mother and her final days in Florida


He’s a magnificent poet and that’s not even his primary artistic discipline! Music is! So you can imagine how good that is (or you already know). He’s won numerous awards for his operas, musicals and songs, and last year, in one week, premiered two new operas in New York — The Garden of the Finzi Continis, for the New York City Opera, and Intimate Apparel, for The Metropolitan Opera and The Lincoln Center Theater. That’s got to be some kind of record, right? 

And he’s written a rivetting memoir, Seeing Through, to be published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 2024.




The Sand Hill Cranes

Ricky’s sister, Susan Photo provided by Wonderlust

(For my sister, Susan)


That spring,

In Wyoming,

When we last visited,

She heard…

The Sand Hill Cranes had migrated there,

Settled their trumpet’s blare

And blueness

In its spacious honor.

Every day 

Scouring the wet lands

We searched for them.


Only a gaggle

Of noisy Canadian Geese,

A species for which

She had nothing

But contempt.

“They scare off all the good birds!”

She loved

How in some places

They were ground up

And fed to the poor.

One night, a strange ungodly sound

Arose in the distance.

I had never heard anything like it,

An almost prehistoric cooing.

“That’s them!” She screamed,

Excited, and then,

Disappointed, because still,

They remained invisible.


Ucross, Wyoming Photo provided by Wonderlust

This year, 

after she drifted off to Eternity

In July, 

In Florida…

I decided to go back


One day

Buffeted, by the pliant and maternal

Summer breeze,

I rode my bike

Twenty miles…

Toward the endless shimmering horizon…

Past the dazzling yellow hills,

The hay stacks, ominously shadowed

To look like cigar stubs

Against the purplish alfalfa,

The whispering silver-leafed cottonwoods…

And the occasional road kill, stinking,

Or bleachy in its bones.

Approaching a horse-shoe shaped river,

Forking an island

As green as Ireland,

There, on a rock,

Amidst the rushing river,

A large blue bird stood, preening,

Lifted one leg,

Shaking its feathers, regal, mysterious, fantastical,


To the family of white tailed deer,

Wiggling their ears, feeding on the shore,

The Horses pacing impatiently by the fence,

And me on the ridge

Desperately dialing my cell phone


Of my amazing good fortune!

The synchronicity! The signs!

But the reception was bad, and my yelling

Made the lumbering thing wheel into the sky

With a wing span that was audible for miles,

The ducks remaining, seemed almost

Embarrassed by their ordinariness.


I saw two more that day.

Each time, they stood for a second,

Noticed me, then wafted 

into the distance with a great, graceful

Blue plodding,



One night,

I sang in her honor.

I am a musician,

Because such things

Make me want to sing.

I sang, among other things,


A song I wrote

When I first fell in love

With this astonishing state.

Afterwards, a woman, moved,

Tearfully confided in me.

Leaning in, to console her,

I was interrupted

By great loud wails

From the trailing distance,

Making it impossible to hear…


Ucross, Wyoming Photo provided by Wonderlust



We looked up.

Two Sand Hill Cranes heaved overhead,


And heading south

In their inevitable beautiful parabola.


Even the Little Big Horns

Froze, and stared

At the flaming sky.


O fabulous bird

Hallowing the nowhere…

So miraculous

There isn’t even room for you

In this poem…

I have heard

Of your loyalty,

How you mate for a lifetime.

In Sarasota,

When one of you was crushed

Beneath the wheels

Of a speeding automobile,

The whole neighborhood 

Lay awake

While you loudly mourned

Your lost partner,

And your uncertain, solitary future.


O land of miles, light, and four directions,

O silence…

You bring my sister back

To me.