Saturday Oct 20

hoppenthaler Birds

I’ve never been a fan of birds.  I mean, I remember once, when I was around six or seven, a bird rocketing out from tree limbs to peck at my head.  It drew blood. 

If I appeared to it a threat, I meant no harm.  I was on my way to fish.  Years later, I took a sequence of jobs that required me to work late into the evening, sometimes into the haunting hours of early morning—second shift custodian, bar tender, bouncer, and such.  It was the noise of squabbling birds that frequently interrupted my drunken sleep; I would curse them and cover my head with the pillow.  Friends of mine owned a white cockatoo.  Calvin was mean-spirited and clearly insane, tearing out its own feathers, its bluish, scabrous skin exposed at its chest.  I would feed and hang out with it when they’d go off on trips and, inevitably, it would bite the hand that fed it.  I’d curse, squirt the damned thing with a water gun.  Stupid bird.

*

A few weeks ago Danny, my step-son-to-be, was playing in the field outside our back door and stumbled upon a nestling in the grass.  He called out to his mother, and together they searched every nearby branch and thicket for a nest, some sign of the bird’s own mother.  Nothing.  They got a cage from the storeroom, placed the bird in it, and brought it home.  When I arrived, that’s where I found it.  They’d gotten the reptile bulb—left over from his last adventure of the sort, that time with a green snake—and rigged it up over the cage.  The bird was nestled in grass and moss; its enormous mouth was tilted upward, opened so wide as to appear supernatural.  Its squawk seemed too voluminous to be issuing from so small a creature.  Its desire was both obvious and desperate.  I sighed and looked online.  My worst fears were confirmed.  It would have been best to leave it, to let nature take its course.  Who were we?  God?  A nestling must be fed every 14–20 minutes from sunrise to sunset.  An adult robin makes about 400 trips every day to feed its young.   90–95% of baby birds perish before they're old enough to breed themselves.  That’s life.

*

As I read through the poems that constitute this month’s Congeries, I’m struck by birds darting in and out of the canopy.  Waxwings, crows, “birds of memory,” a heron, doves, an eagle, baby ducks, a blackbird, a red-winged blackbird, a gull, and a hawk.  In Holly Iglesias’s “Kitchen Conversation,” a juxtaposition—“Yolk coagulating on a blue plate, blackbird on the sill.”  Cai Qijiao’s “Sichuan Boat Call” ends with a metaphor: “On the mountainside by the river, my favorite drilling machine, / the huge bird born into a new age, / is answering your appeal / with a heavy thud of a song.”  In Keith Flynn’s “The Brides of Christ,” a conceit—“Across the landscape, the nuns come flying / in formation against a wintry sky . . . .”  H.L. Hix’s “Oracle’s Voice” clarifies: “Though its song evokes joy, the bird sings from need.”  “The waxwings are passing through, don’t become attached,” the poem warns.

*

Danny’s bird?  I tweezed apart a garden worm with my fingernails.  Down the hatch.  With a dropper, Danny supplied water.  We put the bird back.  We placed it gently on a thatch of grass and said goodbye.  The next day it was gone.  Stupid bird.

*

“Divide birds if you can,“ writes Hix, “into those that sing and those that cry.”