Do you know what I was, how I lived?
                     —Louise Glück
 
It is a goldfinch
one of the two
 
small girls,
both daughters
 
of a friend,
sees hit the window
 
and fall into the fern.
No one hears
 
the small thump but she,
the youngest, sees
 
the flash of gold
against the mica sky
 
as the limp feathered envelope
crumples into the green.
 
How many times
in a life will we witness
 
the very moment of death?
She wants a box
 
and a small towel
some kind of comfort
 
for this soft body
that barely fits
 
in her palm. Its head
rolling side to side,
 
neck broke, eyes still wet
and black as seed.
 
Her sister, now at her side,
wears a dress too thin
 
for the season,
white as the winter
 
only weeks away.
She wants me to help,
 
wants a miracle.
Whatever I say now
 
I know weighs more
than the late fall’s
 
layered sky,
the jeweled leaves
 
of the maple and elm.
I know, too,
 
it is the darkest days
I’ve learned to praise —
 
the calendar packages up time,
the days shrink and fold away
 
until the new season.
We clothe, burn,
 
then bury our dead.
I know this;
 
they do not.
So we cover the bird,
 
story its flight,
imagine his beak
 
singing.
They pick the song
 
and sing it
over and over again.
 

Bobolink

In a meadow  
as wide as a wound 
I thought to stop  
and study the lesser stitchwort’s  
white flowers lacing up  
boot-level grasses 
when I was scolded in song 
by a black and white bird  
whose wings sipped air, 
swallow-like, until he landed  
on the highest tip 
of yellow dock,  
still singing his beautiful warning, 
the brown female  
with him in fear.  
The warning was real: 
the anniversary of my husband’s suicide.  
What was the matter with life? Sometimes 
when wind blows, 
the meadow moves like an ocean, 
and on that day, 
I was in its wake— 
I mean the day in the meadow. 
I mean the day he died.  
This is not another suicide poem. 
This is a poem about a bird 
I wanted to know and so 
I spent that evening looking 
up his feathers and flight,  
spent most of the night 
searching for mating habits  
and how to describe the yellow 
nape of his neck like a bit  
of gothic stained glass, 
or the warm brown 
females with a dark eyeline.  
How could I have known  
like so many species  
they too are endangered? 
God must be exhausted: 
those who chose life; 
those who chose death.  
That day I braided a few 
strips of timothy hay  
as I waited for the pair 
to move again, to lift  
from the field and what,  
live? The dead can take 
a brother, a sister; not really.  
The dead have no one.  
Here in this field  
I worried the mowers 
like giant gorging mouths 
would soon begin again 
and everything would be  
as it will.

Related Poems

An Old Story

We were made to understand it would be
Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,
Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.

Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful
Dream. The worst in us having taken over
And broken the rest utterly down.

                                                               A long age
Passed. When at last we knew how little
Would survive us—how little we had mended

Or built that was not now lost—something
Large and old awoke. And then our singing
Brought on a different manner of weather.

Then animals long believed gone crept down
From trees. We took new stock of one another.
We wept to be reminded of such color.

God's Will

Isn’t there a bird (what’s its name?)
that collects blue

things—bottle cap, rubber band,
bits of broken

cups—to make an elaborate, sparkling
blue nest on the ground. At

a meeting, a woman spoke of
her brother, who’d just

OD’d—teary,

she said she knew it was God’s
will. We all want to be held

a little higher. Bower

bird, that’s the name, it gathers
all that blue

& arranges it into a nest                               
to make the beloved, of course, 

want to stay.

For Keeps

Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.

                              MARCH 4, 2013, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS