Bird Time

Marc Chagall, Paysage Bleu (1949)
Marc Chagall, Paysage Bleu (1949)

Tripping on the torn hem of an apron
the neighbor, Patron Saint of Scrub Jays,
scatters handfuls of unshelled peanuts
on the dry ground.

It is mid-December, and yet
the rains have not come;
she and the birds are taking austerity
measures, planning for deserts.

She sets her clock to ‘bird time’
as she once said that a lifetime of unwinding
ticking clocks is required to know
just one of these inquisitive creatures –

‘They are the guardians of dry Western lowlands,
spies of pinyon pine-juniper forests,
the watchers of denatured empty lots
overrun with mustard and milk thistle’  –
Flying Thieves, she calls them.

Betrayed by the years,
the burrowing lines on her face,
the milkiness of her eyes, her tremors,
have forced a hermit’s life upon her.

She works at home alone,
processing claims in the kitchen –
the place of her extradition,
the shadowy country of old age;
her friends too are taking measures,
saving copper pennies.

On sunny days the scrub jay
steals peanuts from the
the brim of her old straw hat;
she has learned
its many vocalizations –

The cat is in the field!
The bird bath is refilled!
The crows are on the light post
plotting raids on the blackbirds’ eggs!
The old lady is in the backyard!

In the amber light of her years
the rivers run thin and
salmonless through dark
tunnels in the great concrete dams –

The Damnation of the West:
sublime organelles of industry,
post-human tombs of free running water.

What plagues incubate in the depths
of the mirrors on the deserts?
A few free rivers ran when
she was a child, running wild
with her friends – free rivers
and fewer fences.

*     *     *

It is Christmas again and yet no rain has fallen
this year on the wings of the jay or the silk moth.
Yet, here, in bird time, not a day has passed
since the last storm brought floods
and mosses were draped around
the laurels’ slender necks
like emerald-sequined boas.

Under the afternoon shadow of a valley oak,
picking dry burrs from her wool socks,
the old woman dreams of summer’s return–
of the fence lizards basking
upon the pile of rocks placed at the trunk
by an ancient farmer
in the emptied field.

She will pass the year’s end
chatting with the chatterboxes
about the weather
the mast years
the gray squirrel (their shared enemy)
while the machines of the suburbs
unwrapped in the morning’s frenzy
defile the precious silence.

She waits for the black night sky
to close its sparking cape
over the paling remains
of a blue, tearless heaven;

she remembers for both bird and woman
the croaking of chorus frogs in the culverts,
the soft pattering of rain, its gentle music
lost to the anxious drone of
of so many blue sky days.

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