Impossible to marry the magpie perched on the fence gate
to the same magpie flying off,
the bird’s tuxedoed chest apparent while it sits,
but not the bird’s black scapulars and white wing patches
of flight. Monet must choose one and does: his magpie
sits solidly on the horizon of a gate
that’s part of the sky’s horizon, the morning begun
but no longer beginning,
stopped at the arrival of Monet’s choice, and the fresh light
of a night’s snowfall—a day without a narrative now,
the barn and fence and trees still sleeved in snow
that started to melt hours ago when Monet began
to put down his first little commas of yellow gray paint,
whitened yellows, hints of blue.
The magpie sits calmly in the stillness, perched on
the point of leaving, on the elsewhere not yet of a moment
about to be used up, then and forever,
when the bird we do not get to see flies off.
I, too, disguise my needs.
I put my trust in the ruse of domesticity,
the bower, the built life, the promise
of ever and ever and ever
in the haphazard objects I collect—stones, feathers,
bird nests, prehistoric shark’s teeth, bones—
all endlessly arranged, re-arranged.
Your bower always needs some human thing—
a spoon, a piece of tin, baubles of glass
that catch and apportion
the morning sun in all the hooks and crevices
until the light, passed around,
feels profligate, solicitous;
mine, something from outside brought in—
these turkey feathers, found
in northern fields, ordered by size in a vase,
and placed near some Florida shells—scallop and alphabet—
to highlight the feathers’ browns and creams.
Do you ever fear that what you do is not enough?
I have often drawn the curtains against the night,
and moved a collection of carved birds on my mantle—
two kinglets and a house wren—
just inches closer or farther apart, forward and back,
as if there were an order that was just right.
Always the same, even when it changed,
alive with rain and snow, with sunlight
and the moon. On a pair of shelves:
my books, my soldiers. Arranged
in the topmost limbs of a tree with leaves
shaped like hearts, small birds that flitted
in and out of sight. My parents’ voices
talking in an adjacent room late at night.
Then dreams of my mother or father dead—
and awakened, my room not my own, crying.
Then nights when I would not close my eyes,
when fear had me sitting upright in bed,
when my parents’ assurances felt like lies.
Then words—tulip, warblers, love, missing.