My history? Maybe it was always there,
doctor, my irregular heart beat
but I only became aware of it
the first time I heard the Hermit Thrush.
That’s right. But I’d have to go back years
to Kern County, me behind the wheel
of an old, red Buick, engine gone,
car up on blocks, next to a creaking oil well.
It was west of our farm out in the desert.
My legs barely reached the pedals.
I had the window rolled down
to hear the wind, the sand
pepper the fenders, the windshield.
I was happiest alone, leaving home
on my imaginary wheels.
That bird, its song, a long, sad note
fading away out in the sage, beyond the oily
drums, the pump house.
In those days, doctor, an angel followed me
everywhere. We explored the abandoned wells.
Piles of steel casings gone to rust. Mean, black cable—
Paint Brush growing up through the coiled
knots—where horny toads lived.
Wooden derricks, some still standing,
polished to silver from a hundred years
of wind and sand. We could be so quiet
out there, rabbits would come out of hiding for us.
I saw the little thrush only once, years later,
black dots on its chest. Such a shy bird.
Ornithologists call its song
a ‘soft whistle.’ But there is no song
without affliction, doctor. No bird, if we’ll listen,
that does not built its secret nest in us
out of old string and dead feathers.
ALL THE BIRDS ARE HERE
It’s a noisy gathering
to wave us good bye.
No hard feelings.
Just one reason, like dogs,
I so like birds:
they don’t hold a grudge.
What a fine thing
to let go almost immediately
all the bad things
we’ve done to them.
You can see the bomb falling.
It’s packed with all our good intentions.
The White-rumped Warbler
makes me smile.
If you want to get in here
you can add your bird now.
It’s a damn shame, isn’t it,
how our tool making
just got out of hand.
A word that kills: reclamation.
A word to love: water bird.
Any bird can fly
rings around a rocket
and Mars is no wetland.
The contemplative bittern
lives down deep
in the reeds.
It’s single croak,
when forced to fly,
“Leave me alone.”
This is our “trail of tears,”
but not our Oklahoma.
Everything’s used up
we might have called home.