The birds look at us as though we had two heads. They cannot, they say, comprehend how we can stand to live in boxes, to travel in metal containers, to be stuck forever to the ground. They say that food should be picked then eaten instantly, not packaged and half thrown away. They say they cannot see how we are supposedly more evolved than they, for they have the sort of freedom about which we only talk endlessly. But most of all, and saddest of all, we know they pity us as we pity ourselves.
Nature has a way of applying
a perfect logic that eludes
its most complex creatures,
we claiming to be first among them.
Nature grants the housefly
a quite short life, but allows it
to see a thousand images at once,
a lifetime of vision in mere days.
The tortoise is consigned to crawl
along at a laggard’s pace, outrun
by other animals, who will be in
their graves in a tortoise’s middle age.
Birds must muck in the soil
for sustenance, or hunt small
creatures aground, but they have
the ample sky for a home.
Humans, well we have no such
luck, blind to all around us, rushing
always headlong into death, and only
dreaming of being free from earth’s grip.
The sun is shining brightly today,
and the sky, with only the odd
passing cloud, is that certain blue.
Do not ask me to describe that certain
blue, but be assured it is not exactly
the blue that you are imagining right now.
Even if I would describe it, in some
infinite detail, your vision of it
would at best be a near approximation.
The gull that swooped in and stole
the crust of bread I overtoasted
this morning knew exactly what the blue was.
Birds generally, and gulls in particular
have deep understanding of blue
that you, my friends, cannot even imagine.
The pelican hasn’t been around
for a couple of days, and we miss
his akimbo dives into the pond,
surfacing and throwing his head back
to show he’s swallowing his catch
even though we suspect some of the time
he caught nothing at all, but knowing
we’re as gullible an audience
as he is likely to find any time soon.
We hope he is off breeding somewhere,
making little pelicans that will
be able to entertain us next fall
when we return, birds of our own sort,
not snowy egrets but snow birds nonetheless.
We don’t want to know any more
about the mating ritual, some
things ought to be private.
We learned that painful a few years
ago, when my brother thought it
was important we see thoroughbreds bred.
We prefer our breedings like
good French films, suggestive
but ultimately leaving it
to our memory, like so much of our youth.
Mockingbirds greet the morning
Great Blue Herons stare
imagining their voices
night sweetly welcome the dawn
The great temple bell
awaits the morning, the monk,
its daily purpose
cast deep within the metal
always verging on release
Smoke of incense too
prostrates itself to Buddha
soon a morning breeze
or the freedom of the sky
We can sit for a time, and speak
of our pains, how they cause us
to stop and look inward while the world
proceeds on it’s axis, in a slow march
through time and space, and we
share the anger and anguish
of our too fallible bodies which
time reclaims in slow progression.
We do not pause and cast eyes
on the egrets, heron and ibis returning
for the night as the retreating sun
paints the clouds in colors known
best to flames consuming all,
to wings flapping as perches are
taken adjusted, as conversations
are continued while night settles
slowly over the preserve, the birds
marvel at how we allow ourselves
to be absent from the simple
beauty of the world that surrounds us.
I now live among birds, and they
accept me, listen to me endless complaints,
and never demand I cease kvetching.
I know they speak about me behind
my back, but they are kind, and generally
do not remind me of my shortcomings,
no doubt certain I am all too well aware
of my failings, and they remind me they have
their own problems, a shrinking
environment, water and air that only
we might drink or breathe willingly,
and when I object to their complaints,
when I say that I am not the one
to blame, they seem to laugh, and say
perhaps so, for we birds have much
in common with you, no one wants
to listen to us complain, and you do
all look pretty much alike to us.
We pull in to the parking lot where
our mailboxes are arrayed like
so many graves at Arlington, or more
like the drawers in a low cost mausoleum.
This is the new Postal Service, sharing
the burden of the need to cut costs
even at the expense of services.
Standing nearby are two Sandhill
Cranes watching the postal worker
carefully unload the trays of mail
and buckets of packages, soon to be
slotted and eventually carried away.
The birds stare at us, knowing it seems
that they are protected, and we need
to walk and drive around them, for they
have no intention of yielding ground to us,
certain they were here first and they say
they tolerate us only barely, and if we
doubt that, they will explain
in pointed detail with their beaks.
We walk around them and wonder how
they would hope to open the metal box
where any mail they might receive
will soon enough be deposited.
The spider wandered around
the corner of the ceiling and wall
of the bathroom, one she called
a daddy longlegs, although most
spiders of my acquaintance have
rather long legs using my proportions
as a basis for comparison, and it was
my task to deal with it.
It was harmless, as are most
of his species, and I searched
for a way to give him and give us
our freedom, here perhaps,
a reality, since it is no colder
without than within, although the birds
in our wetlands might have other
ideas about the spider’s impermanence.
I paused, considered the options,
and knew this koan would not
be answered this day, and I bid
my octoped friend farewell, but
suggested he consider not
trying to bring me into his web.
I have no reason to venture to Tahiti
for Gaugin took me there years ago,
and again on a visit to Chicago and one
to New York, or was it Cleveland, it hardly
matters, for I know that the Tahiti of my
experience no longer exists, touristed
to death, itself at constant risk of drowning.
I did have reason to go to Arles, and there
searched far and wide for the sky
that Vincent promised, or the flowers,
but the few stars visible through
the lights and pollution of the city were
pale imitations of the brilliant lights I know
were there aj century ago.
Now I sit in my yard and watch
the comings and goings of
a thousand birds who deserve
to be painted and not captured merely
in pixels, for memory, human and
electronic, fades with time, while
art if not artists can be immortal.