Clever Stalk, Crows and Hawks, Watching the Birdwatcher, Buddies, Swallows
by Richard Schiffman
Crows and Hawks
The sky, I’ve noticed, does not stop
to chart the flight of crows,
nor crows recall their flight
Neither does the night
record the course of stars.
Though earth leaps daily
through a flaming hoop of sky,
every day it is another earth,
another hoop entire.
And once the hummingbird
has sipped the honey, it darts straight
to the nearest flower.
It does not rest upon its nectar-
laurels, nor name itself
the poet-laureate of meadows.
And even death, I’ve noticed,
does not rest. Though every day
it scores fresh wins,
they are reversed by birth.
And life’s advances
are equally erasable,
as the flight of crows,
erratic and untraceable.
Which is why death never ends
the game-- like a hawk chasing a crow
chased off by crows.
Watching the Bird Watcher
She peers through binoculars
into a treetop lit with day’s last blaze,
where some bird alights unseen by me.
Her gaze poised tremulous and light,
as if resting upon a twig-- looking, looking
at the bird that we don’t see. The bird in the tree,
and the seer of the bird sharing for the stainless present
the same slender branch. She stands stock-still.
Expecting nothing. Neither bird, nor bird watcher, nor air
are moving. Nor I, as I watch her, as she watches the bird--
all hung weightless and timeless and spaceless. Perched
upon this dimensionless brink. The twig could not bear
any more load than this bare awareness. If, therefore,
you would not spook the bird, nor snap the twig,
nor shatter this spun glass globe of air, then alight upon
the world like air, like breath. And do not linger any longer
than the bird watcher who now strolls off, the bird still hidden,
still lost in shadow. Forgetting the bird, forgetting herself.
Dissolving like an apparition into twilight’s final bay.
Only this poem still holding on. Foolish poem
grasping at the ungraspable world.
I called you after you died to hear again your ducky voice
on the answering machine. For weeks you continued:
“This is Will at Bathrooms Restored, please leave a message
after the beep.” But I never did. What was there to say?
Even before-- what was there to say? You used to call
first thing in the morning, “Hey Richard, it’s Will,”
and I’d say, “Hey Will, what’s up?” We’d chew the bull, maybe
plan to meet that evening. “Will, there’s a concert at Carnegie,
I can get free tickets.” And you would trudge over wasted
after a day of laying tiles, then nod off during the Beethoven.
Who else could sleep through the “Ode to Joy”?
Later we’d go to an all-night cafe and you would yatter
about your nonexistent love life, and I would tell you mine.
Guy talk, unrepeatable mostly. And then, go figure,
you were dying, and I sat there with the gaunt shell of you
too stunned to speak, and you too sick to speak
(although we both knew that there was nothing left to say.)
I could only hold you, but that didn’t feel right either:
two awkward and dry-eyed male animals clutching.
Give me a break! Later, of course, the tears did come,
for me at least, when you moved upstate. I’m guessing
that you had already gone beyond the veil where tears
make sense. On my last visit, your eyes, not exactly vacant,
but impenetrable wells, so purged of wanting
and of needing that they were no longer entirely human.
Was this the enlightenment that we both pursued to India
and beyond? Or maybe just pain, which also clears the deck
magnificently. Or death. That will do it too. I’d like to ask.
But it has been years since your answering machine
stopped answering. And talk was never your thing,
Will, nor mine, when I was with you. We understood
each other without it in those days before male bonding,
when no one said the word “love,” or needed to.
How from the doldrums of the day
they tumbled; only swallows skimming treetops.
Yet no wheeling eagle could compete
with this sudden squall of sickle wings,
roller coasters sprung from nowhere,
or conjured from the air itself, pouring
in from everywhere like rain.
No ordered flock, but schools of comets
spinning tails of flame. Arsonists
lighting the sodden woodlands,
and the greenwood of myself halfway
through an August afternoon.
They did not stay to fan the fire,
so I sprouted wings of words and joined them,
keen to learn what flying means--
not dragging wings through air as geese do,
pumping steady over oceans; nor like egrets,
snow-white flappers floating on the sky’s
black river; and nothing like the owl
I saw today slide deathly mute
through mazy pines.
These masters lack what swallows
effortlessly effuse: not skill, nor grace,
but thrill and simmer. Flying exclamation points
darting from no place to no place fast,
banking and swerving like dervishes, like
shards of light, bouncing on the trampoline
of air. As if flight were not a flapping habit,
but a dizzy calling, less a way of moving
than of falling constantly into astonishment--
then catching themselves midair and winging off
to join the reeling flock.
A botanical gardenist of sidewalks.
A weedologist with a doctorate in cracks and crannies.
A city boy shooting straight from the pavement,
the mean street itself, clenched by a thimbleful of dirt,
an ecosystem that fit his scrawny seed, from which arose
a life, not unconstrained, but free to rise, not far,
but far enough in buzzing air to stake
a fugacious and contested claim upon the earth itself,
the snub root sunk not wide, but deep beneath
the asphalt seal, where streams still run, or rather trickle.
Which will suffice-- he is not greedy. Merely scrappy.
A weed now gone to seed. Not to the garden born,
but to the crevice. Mostly content within his cubic inch
of real estate, yet not without expansionist intent,
swelling his seditious vegetable against the hard rock of the city,
unfurling like a green prayer, or a question mark
in a world of answers, or a poem in a world of prose,
cramming his vamped exuberance like a camel
through the eye of a needle, which Jesus thought unlikely,
but not inconceivable, at least for a miracle-worker like himself,
who made wine from water, and hope from hate, and fishermen saints,
and, who knows, maybe redwoods from weeds, which poets
also do, metaphorically speaking, shattering figurative sidewalks
with their strapping saplings-- of words, words, words.
You can get drunk on that kind of wine. Like the dandelion,
so intoxicated with its own insignificance in the greater scheme
of things that it forgets where it cannot grow,
and it grows there anyway.