Monday, February 9, 2009

Dead birds and then some.

When I first came to Helena, I saw at least three dead birds around town within about a one-month period. It struck me deep down. I don't think I had ever seen that many dead birds before in my life (outside of poultry, of course), but it was more than shock that affected me so deeply. I didn't – and don't – know what to think of it, but I knew it was important. Dead birds to me are perhaps the ultimate contradiction and the utmost tragedy. I once told my mother that a short life as a bird – flying, swooping, free in every way – would be better than a human lifespan filled with drudgery. She rejected this, and I've always regretted what she said a bit. Predators, she mentioned, and danger everywhere. "But they fly," I thought, and still think."But they fly."

My relationship with the night, and subsequently the moon, started out very differently. I can remember the first time I listened to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". He sang, "I see skies of blue, clouds of white; the bright blessed day," and I vividly remember expecting him to say something about the "dark, scary night." It is obvious now that I did not know Satchmo very well. Nor the night. "The dark, sacred night," he sang. It was a line that shook my world, and I've been growing to understand it little by little ever since.

.... Which (kinda) leads me to this poem. My Nature Writing professor Murphy let us out on Wednesday to enjoy the sunshine and write poetry, our first poetry assignment. He gave us the line "Atop this hill waiting for a glance" to use as our first line. I wrote no fewer than three different starts of poems with this, none of them satisfactory. I had all but given up until tonight, when, reading an article for some ridiculous assignment, I found that the planets had alligned. In short, I don't know what set me off, but I started scribbling on the back of the article, and this poem, for better or for worse, came into being. It may or may not be good, but at least I won't be empty-handed when Murphy comes to collect my poem.

Dead Birds

Atop this hill, waiting for a glance
a bird lies alone. During the day,
the sun beams down weakly; it tries
to heat the tiny, stagnant heart, sighing
not on my watch, dear God
not on my watch, not again.

From far away, the wind sweeps in
to say its goodbye, caressing every feather
holding each aloft just to watch it fall
again. It remembers them all, and murmurs
goodbye old friend, I understand
goodbye old friend, but we must part.

Then one silver eye glances, then gazes
into the bird’s milky one. The moon
looks silently upon her lover. She pulls
a dark veil over her face and smiles.
But he flew, she laughs.
But he flew.

Although it really deserves its very own post, "Repenti" by French crooner Renan Luce was on repeat the entire time I wrote this poem. Even if you don't understand the lyrics (I tell myself they improve my French, though I don't understand half of them), the video, though not high in quality, says it all. This song has been a favorite of mine from the first time I heard it. The repeated phrase "Repenti; j'ai trahi" means "I repent; I betrayed". I'd have embedded this baby so hard, but someone was a jerk and didn't let me.


  1. I think this is *absolutely* the best poem (and post) you have written so far. I am completely floored.
    It brings me right back to when I was seven; I remember the damaged, unconscious little bird that I finished off.
    More than that... I can't help but think about my parents music; wind rustles through strings and fipples, carrying notes to faraway places.

  2. I agree, this is powerful, substantial, heart achingly beautiful in ways which so many poets fail to grasp. Thank you.

  3. What would I do without you guys? I am so incredibly humbled by your praise. Thank you.