[from Al Maginnes's The Light in Our Houses, 2000]
The Language of Birds
What does the river say to a woman
sleeping beneath a window left open
so she can hear its murmur and roll all night?
With first light, migrations of birds
will rise out of damp tatters of grass
to fill the empty tent sky raises over water.
The birds do not know the river's name,
do not spend hours, as she does, watching
its topography. They only know the blood-urge
lifting them into flight, the compass guiding them
down the wide alley of water. And the woman
sleeping below them is filled
with the language of birds,
her limbs weaving patterns of flight
as if she might rise at any moment
from the ropy nest of sheets, as if this house,
the car that ferries her to a job
she endures, the little square of garden
she turns anew each spring,
mattock blade lifting like a wing
to bury itself in damp soil,
all could be erased if the next motion
might discover her in flight.
Once or twice a week, after work, she drives
to a bar to drink and watch day smolder,
bed of burning feathers, the deep, temporary red
a glaring screen across the window. Sometimes she takes home
a man with the air of other places about him.
In bed, most of them are quick and clumsy,
as if they do not trust her not to vanish.
In the morning, the river looks wider,
less passable than before, each of them
shuffling through farewells rehearsed
since their bodies rolled apart. Still,
she dreams of the one whose hand
will awaken upon her, will translate flight
into the world of flesh that is also
the world of disapointment. Only in sleep
does she progress toward the invisible
places birds and rivers know.
Once, at dawn, she startled a gray water bird
out of the high weeds whiskering the bank.
Its wings wide as any man's span,
it rose with the slow assurance
of one who carries his destination
wherever he goes, who knows
that any resting place is temporary,
no matter what name it is given.
The Light in Our Houses (Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry)