For the Birds

Mark Jarman

When you wake up, raising the film over your eyes, in a hollow of boughs or bark,
you are always hungry. And you all talk at once. Each twig has an opinion and
holds a singing fabric sewn with discussions of lice, offspring, height above
ground, eyesight, mates, one night stands, best routes to Canada once the warm
weather comes, the taste of this bug, that bug, spittle needed to mat human hair,
mud’s pliancy, the housework of the sky. We think that none of you has an insight
into the afterlife. But you all remember birth and the cramped translucent dark
before the break-out.

I am bored. I need birds. Not flight but activity, not serene detachment sailing but
intense engagement hunting. Look me in the eyes, frontal, head on. And I admire
you. Study me askance. And I adore you. Even the moa in the museum case.
The trinket hanging from the Christmas tree. 

Incurious witnesses, feathers dabbled in blood, poking your noses in the wounded
hands and feet. What did St. Francis tell you? Be yourselves, little ones, and you
will praise God.

For how many of us were you the first word?

Trouble sleeping, I think of you in the netted aviary. There among reaching fronds
and green blades, you hovered at my sister’s washed floating hair, patient to take a
single sand-colored strand that, buoyed by static, reached out half-limp to be
taken. She felt it go with a little cry when the root broke from its anchor of scalp-

And this morning, there’s an oil smear on the sliding glass door to the patio, and in
it, dangling gray breast feathers—five of them, like milkweed fluff. One of you
caromed off the hard sky and left this pattern, as precise as fish scales, scalloped
on the glass like a record in rock. Veronica’s napkin. The Shroud of Turin.

Woodpeckers, hairy or downy. Red bellied. Pileated. Flickers. Cardinals.
Brown thrashers. A single rosebreasted grosbeak. Once, a tumbling flock of
drunken cedar waxwings, chirping like crickets. Red tail hawks with breasts like
lampshades. Great horned owls conversing at dawn, in January. Screech owls in
their red phases. Mockingbirds copying mockingbirds. Chimney swifts back from
Peru to the same elementary school chimney. Kingbirds on powerlines. Blue birds
in pairs. Blue jays in gangs. To be a man who surrounds his house with birds. To
be a woman visited by wings. To say to the turkey vulture overhead, “Sister.” To
say, “Brother,” to the starling in the swirling flock.

If your call and response first thing in the morning make us hold hands and smile in
the dark, as we lie in bed, it’s because we’re not alone in the world. And when
letters like this one are written, it is because we are.