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Wednesday, February 22, 2023


by Martin Elster

For the past four years, volunteers have spent their winter nights shepherding newts across a one-mile stretch of Chileno Valley Road, a winding country road in the hills of Petaluma. They call themselves the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade, and their founder, Sally Gale, says they will keep showing up until the newts no longer need them. —The New York Times, January 24, 2023

Chileno Valley Road cuts smack across
their migratory path, nestled between
forests and farms and ranches, yet the loss
of newts (small, slender creatures rarely seen
at night) can be acute. It’s time to breed.
Downpours have deluged rivers, ponds, and lakes.
Amphibians wake. They feel an urgent need.
Drivers don’t heed them, nor apply their brakes.  

Dozens of orange forms (wheels can’t dissuade them,
for genes in their amphibian marrow bade them)
slither to the blacktop, blind to dangers.
Yet here’s the noble Newt Brigade to aid them
to reach the primal waters which have made them,
now clinging to the fingers of kind strangers.

The winner of the 2022 Helen Schaible International Sonnet Contest, Martin Elster comes from Hartford, CT, where he studied percussion and composition at the Hartt School of Music and performed with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Martin, whose poetry has been strongly influenced by his musical sensibilities, has written two books, the latest of which is Celestial Euphony (Plum White Press, 2019).