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Baby birds, it's said, are born not knowing
their notes. They learn them from their mother's
throats in the way children learn their ABCs
at parental knees, muh muh muh becoming mother,
da da da, daddy; cheep cheep cheep, a cantata.
That being so, do poets find a poetic ear
in the sphere of their predecessors?
Young, with island sand and salt my milieu,
my concerts were the calls of shorebirds,
the forlorn foundling cries of gulls, the staccato
siren of a tern, should you carelessly venture
too close to her nest; the stuttering dance-step
of sandpipers, miniscule but mighty. Then,
there were the rest: foraging land birds, seeking
fare left by the incoming tide, their darkness
incongruous on the purity of a beach.
There was a time, walking to my garage
when I found a songbird dead in my driveway;
its small body supple, still warm to the touch,
not ready to die just yet like all of us. I
placed it in a box (ashes to ashes, bird to sky),
laid it to rest under the fig tree in my backyard,
and not knowing its persuasion, I
fashioned a cross of sticks over the fresh
earth, believing we shared the sanctity of
simple beauty, the brevity of life.
Near a lake where I live now, sibling to the sea,
briny by proximity, birdsong is rampant
in early spring. I have heard the 'death bird',
he of the shrill one-note filled with foreboding,
who heralded the passage of a dying husband
in an interminable summer of illness. Here,
there are the sharps and flats of ordinary
choristers, and one whose mother was surely
a coloratura soprano in a former life.
This one whose concert halts me spellbound,
turns me to stone (not salt) with his serenade of
couplets, no two the same, some so comical I laugh
out loud to the absent cars and senseless concrete
of my parking lot. He sings and sings, never
abated, nothing by rote, and I? I wait, heart in
my throat, should he be the songbird from
under the fig tree, reincarnated.
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