Melanerpes uropygialis

Gila woodpecker

Judy Ray



In spring, hummingbirds

whirr at the yellow

aloe’s flower towers,

tonguing into

golden trumpets.

Suddenly, stems sway

as a woodpecker,

black-and-white patterned

bright, clasps a tall spike

and also pokes for nectar.

Wing patches glint

when the bird abruptly

abandons the stem

that almost breaks

from the weight and lift-off.


This scene is urban,

seen in desert city

where human habitation

grows to invade

the habitat of others.

Elsewhere in this Sonoran

desert, saguaros stand,

growing for decades

before an arm extends.

There the Gila woodpecker

makes its idiosyncratic

claim, tap-tapping

with red-capped head

to make hollows –

disfiguring like graffiti

some might think

at first sight, not knowing

that the holes will seal

into little caves for nests,

first for the woodpeckers,

then taken by elf owls.




Judy Ray’s most recent book is To Fly Without Wings: Poems (Helicon Nine Editions). Others include Pigeons in the Chandeliers and the chapbooks Fishing in Green Waters and Judy Ray: Greatest Hits 1974 – 2008. Poems and essays have appeared in many journals.