A Late Spring
From my porch chair, I watch house finches
squabble at the feeder for the last
kernels of thistle seed, warring cheerfully
for the topmost perch, little flecks
of rust flaking from their play.
Or is it serious? Since Saturday,
the finches have devoured thirteen pounds
of sunflower. Now they’re demanding more.
So I pour my own concoction into the tube,
which they seem to enjoy: peanuts and Fruity Pebbles.
I imagine them incredulous at first, their bills
inquiring over the crushed-up grains
before they dig in, learning to love the strange bounty
like the growing Beijing middle class
who’ve cultivated a taste for Pizza Hut.
Once, I tried a handful of raw millet
I spat back in the sack, too bitter for me.
I wanted to taste the staple of this species
who escaped from New York cages in the 1930’s.
I think of them invading Mastic Beach,
copulating poolside, harrying the rich
who cursed them as they poisoned heated bird baths
and hired men to hose shit off their roadsters.
Which is one explanation for why the finches flee
from the slightest movement, refusing my palm.
They don’t trust me. Who could blame them?
But they need my charity in this bare season
before the flowers fill the air with seed,
and so they accept without question
whatever crumb I toss them, tearing
apart the crust of a stale bran muffin we share.
Flittering on the eaves, the finches agree
(their fleet song says as much—agree agree), one call
chasing another, all appetite,
as they pipe above me, twittering, nearly free.
In the lot outside the Sylva Waffle House
they talk about their options for the day,
deciding on a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Their rented Saturn putters as they climb
from four to seven thousand feet. They gape
at stone outcrops and ledges of sheer
granite disappearing into the mist.
Across the valley, fog swallows the peaks.
He slows to twenty-five and tries to follow
the solid yellow line along the asphalt.
“Where are we going?” she asks, “are you okay?”
He sees a sign for Waterrock Knob Trail
and parks beside a two-tone Ford Bronco
with Tennessee plates, the hood caked with rust.
From the gravel lot, he can barely read
Waterrock Knob Summit: 0.9 Miles,
the sign spattered with moon-mushrooms of lichen.
Loping up the trail, he passes her, stepping
over stones, spillage from the crumbling
ridge-spine. And this becomes their pattern:
He cuts in front and rounds a bend of wind-
dwarfed pines, stops to wait for her
and lets her pass, then overtakes her again,
never allowing her to catch her breath.
Snowflakes sting their faces on the slope.
“Don’t go so fast,” she says, “I don’t feel well.”
“I told you not to order biscuits and gravy.”
She clutches her stomach. “We’re almost there,” he says.
“I really have to go. I’m serious.”
“Go where?” he says, realizing what she means.
She walks behind a boulder off the trail.
“Keep watch,” she shouts, “just make sure no one comes.”
Alone, he leans against an icy trunk
and wipes the condensation from his glasses.
Upwind from where she’d slipped into the thicket,
he sniffs the foul odor of something human
and looks both ways along the path. Nothing.
He searches for her figure in the mist,
but the cliffs, the trees, even his feet have vanished.
He thinks of the Bronco in the parking lot.
How long had it been parked so far out here?
Behind him, a crackling of branches.
He shivers in his coat. “You almost done?”
The world around him has no form, no color.
Holding both arms in front of him, palms out,
he edges through the fog, calling her name.
Photo by Mike Deslauriers