“Bird-Understander” by Craig Arnold

Of many reasons I love you here is one

 

the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright

 

so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal      all the people
ignoring it       because they do not know
what to do with it       except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death

 

it makes you terribly terribly sad

 

You wish you could take the bird outside
and set it free or       (failing that)
call a bird-understander
to come help the bird

 

All you can do is notice the bird
and feel for the bird       and write
to tell me how language feels
impossibly useless

 

but you are wrong

 

You are a bird-understander
better than I could ever be
who make so many noises
and call them song

 

These are your own words
your way of noticing
and saying plainly
of not turning away
from hurt

 

you have offered them
to me       I am only
giving them back

 

if only I could show you
how very useless
they are not

 

Craig Arnold, “Bird-Understander”. Copyright 2009 by Craig Arnold, via Poetryfoundation.org.

“Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

“About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent …

“About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.

The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.

[. . .]

We don’t know what’s going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite? We don’t know.”

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek