1 My mother always called it a nest, the multi-colored mass harvested from her six daughters' brushes, and handed it to one of us after she had shaped it, as we sat in front of the fire drying our hair. She said some birds steal anything, a strand of spider's web, or horse's mane, the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses near a fold where every summer of her girlhood hundreds nested. Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius— how they transform the useless. I've seen plastics stripped and whittled into a brilliant straw, and newspapers—the dates, the years— supporting the underweavings. 2 As tonight in our bed by the window you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean the brush as my mother did, offering the nest to the updraft. I'd like to think it will be lifted as far as the river, and catch in some white sycamore, or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets, the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects lay their eggs. Would this constitute an afterlife? The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks off islands they called paradise, stood in the early sunlight cutting their hair. And the rare birds there, nameless, almost extinct, came down around them and cleaned the decks and disappeared into the trees above the sea.
From Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges (Antheneum, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.