— E. E. Cummings
— E. E. Cummings
— Mary Jo Salter
They’ve perched for hours
on that window-ledge, scarcely
moving. Beak to beak,
a matched set, they differ
like salt and pepper shakers.
It’s an event when they tuck
(simultaneously) their pinpoint
heads into lavender vests
of fat. But reminiscent
of clock hands blandly
turning because they must
have turned—somehow, they’ve
taken on the grave,
small-eyed aspect of monks
hooded in conferences
so intimate nothing need
be said. If some are chuckling
in the park, earning
their bread, these are content
to let the dark engulf them—
it’s all the human
imagination can fathom,
mindless two silhouettes
stand in a window thick
as milk glass. They appear
never to have fed on
anything else when they stir
all of a sudden to peck
savagely, for love
or hygiene, at the grimy
feathers of the other;
but when they resume
their places, the shift
is one only a painter
or a barber (prodding a chin
back into position)
would be likely to notice.
Two poems by Hailey Leithauser.
No other song
O, She Says
O, she says (because she loves to say O),
O to this cloud-break that ravels the night,
O to this moon, its mouthful of sorrow,
O shallow grass and the nettle burr’s bite,O to heart’s flare, its wobbly satellite,
O step after step in stumbling tempo,
O owl in oak, O rout of black bat flight,
(O moaned in Attic and Esperanto)O covetous tongue, O fat fandango,
O gnat tango in the hot, ochered light,
O wind whirred leaves in subtle inferno,
O flexing of sea, O stars bolted tight,O ludicrous swoon, O blind hindsight,
O torching of bridges and blood boiled white,
O sparrow and arrow and hell below,
O, she says, because she loves to say O.
— Pablo Neruda
It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air –
and there, night came in.
When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography –
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.
— John Updike
The shadows have their seasons, too.
The feathery web the budding maples
cast down upon the sullen lawn
bears but a faint relation to
high summer’s umbrageous weight
and tunnellike continuum—
black leached from green, deep pools
wherein a globe of gnats revolves
as airy as an astrolabe.
The thinning shade of autumn is
an inherited Oriental,
red worn to pink, nap worn to thread.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
— Wallace Stevens
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
A Bird came down the Walk (328)
— Emily Dickinson
A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.
I wanted this winter. I did snow dances in my mind, longing for a season of magical decadence a la Phillip Pullman or Mark Helprin. There would be skiing, snowshoeing, tracking, hours in the woods, pots of piping tea.
We’ve been graced with it all. There’s been snow like cake, like sugar, like flecks of starlings swinging. I’ve celebrated it.
I’ve also been inside. A lot. The hours spent in the neighborhood, unable to leave because of bald tires and bad roads, have lent themselves to reams of metaphors, research logs, and seed schedules. Wool’s been spun, literally and figuratively. The piles of photographs and shoes and sweaters in my closet have been swept up and tidied. I’ve been trapping mice, or attempting to, devastated over the tiny broken bodies but unwilling to attempt live traps in the bitter cold.
More than anything my hands have been perched over letters and letting them go in rushes. Fingers form the botanical and pinyin names of Chinese herbs. They jot the number of days it takes for a seed to grow girthy enough to be plucked from a nursery and transplanted into the yawning earth.
I flutter and fret, hover and strike, stacking syllables into prose and roaming for words better than those already chosen. The more I write the more deeply I fall in love with the craft and practice.
Perhaps paradoxically, the more I sit the happier I am to not be a full-time writer. Chairs and the sedentary get me twitching after awhile. My mind is worked to exhaustion and I long for the feeling of a shovel in my hand and a garden of possibility before me. (A real garden, not one in metaphor.)
Now, on this last day of February, my sitting days are about to end. Beginning next week I’ll be back at the farm, my life returning to the old, familiar cycles of sowing, transplanting, harvesting and selling.
In my mind, winter ends after this weekend. It’s already begun being ushered out by the cardinals and blue jays singing in the morning. I love the cold blue of these days as they are warmed with song, where even the house sparrows are lovely to listen to. Any bird sound makes me feel lighter and alive and longing to shed another layer.
Because of the sweet madness of March, marked by all the plans and work and the water and warm muscle that fuels it, I’m going to concentrate on poetry for a while. There won’t be as much time for the prose of blogging (especially given all of the other writing I’m doing; the editing of my book, being a contributing writer for Herbstalk, and more). And, I love poetry. I pick it apart like a buzzard. I gulp down what I love and stay away from everything else.
So please join me in a month of poems. The theme: birds. The alternative theme? Anything mud-luscious and everything puddle-wonderful. There’s a lot of glorious and fecund poetry out there about the transformation of seasons that we’re all just starting to witness or about to. If you have a poem that you especially love, be it your own or another’s, please share it in the comments, on the S & P Facebook page, or on twitter, hashtag #MudSongs.
To quote Tegan and Sarah: here comes the rush.
To explore the physical sounds of a spring morning, please visit Anatomy of a Spring Morning from the Spokes and Petals archives.
It’s been a little while, but I’m back because the birds are.
In my neighborhood the mourning doves are in the branches of street trees, softly moaning and ooh-OOOOH-ing. Blue jays gurgle and jeer, and the grackles readle-eak, chitip and chaw. (I’ve heard grackles’ calls described as “nails on the chalkboard of hell.” That may be, but they make up for the screechings with their exceptional intelligence and lovely, iridescent plumage.) Meanwhile, the song of the cardinal, as robust and bright as paint, saturates the morning. There is also my favorite, the robin. I sit and listen to one outside the window as he hollers his cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. I luxuriate, I sink in. Winter, even the barely half a winter that hesitatingly lingered over us for a few months, becomes more of a strange and sketchy memory every day.
The city’s pinioned residents are in one sense back, coloring in the morning with beauty and song, but they were never really gone. The doves, shaped as beautifully as 18th century cursive, the robins and jays – each one of these birds was here for the whole haul of winter. So, how is it that we’re only just beginning to hear them now?
The answer, it turns out, lies in the pituitary gland. In humans, that pea-sized gland moderates the thyroid and converts food into energy, along with a litany of other essential tasks. The bird’s pituitary gland is just as fundamental to its survival and, in the greater scheme of things, also makes a spring morning what it is.
As days lengthen and allow for more sunlight to penetrate the earth, prodding crocuses out of hiding and gracing the landscape with purples and fecundity, the light hits cells in birds’ brains which flicker certain genes to attention. These genes coddle the thyroid into activity with hormones, which knock down yet another domino by stimulating the tiny pituitary. In turn, this gland produces more hormones called gonadotrophins which, as one may guess, have a little something to do with the testes. Specifically, they prompt them to grow. This growth forces males to remember why the phrase is not just “and the bees,” and they suddenly start singing earnestly and fervently, whistling away the hours with a lusty abandon.
In the non-migrating bird’s winter, time is spent searching for food, conserving energy, and surviving. During that time these birds, with the exception of anomalies such as song sparrows and chickadees, simply lack the physiological drive to do something as superfluous as singing. In the spring, however, they devote a large part of their waking hours to performing and courting, all in a lead-up to the annual traditions of the laying of eggs and tending of young. While January and February can be incredibly trying with their cold temperatures, monochromatic atmospheres, and the stolid absence of song, it all becomes worthwhile when the birds remember how to make their melodies, and we are once again allowed to experience the sweetness and hardworking musicalities of their small and skilled throats.
What birds are you hearing? Have they been around all winter, or are they just beginning to return?