Our West-of-England Tumblers had caramel stripes
on their feathers and smooth bald heads.
Their feathered feet fell soft where they landed
and the loft we built for them was as much a home
for me as it was for them. During rains, we all
watched a cloud-cluttered horizon. Those birds
warmed me so that I didn’t need a jacket.
They came close, perched unsteadily on my ankles,
took the occasional seed from my hand.
Thinking of them now, I remember the joy of naming them:
Gable & Lombard, Tracy & Hepburn,
George & Gracie, Louie & Keely.
How I impressed myself with telling which bird
was which. On sunny mornings, in the loft,
we opened the windowed perches
to watch them shoot straight up
to attack the sky, tumble 4 or 5 times
and then fly off over places unknown to us.
In the evenings they returned with bits of this
and that on their fanned feet.
I think of driving home from work in those days,
dusted with fumbles and failures and a few
here and there.
This is not just a story about birds of a feather;
it is about a quiet place with
murmuring winged things and warm bodies
seeking nothing more than each other.
“You mustn’t yell at them” said the woman
who sold us our first pair.
“They will fly off and never come back
if you do.”
2. THE WAYS TIME IS NOT MEASURED
By the scent of Night Blooming Jasmine
By the scent of brewing coffee
By the scent of a newly-painted bench
By the sound of no water in the L.A. Basin
By the sound of jingling tags on a dog’s collar
By the sound of Eurasian Collard Doves
crooning “pay attention.”
By the taste of cheap razzleberry jam on the
veranda of my tongue
By the taste of sauteed brown trout
By the taste of cold Chai Tea—almost
(but not quite) cinnamon
By the feel of the cat’s meaty softness
By the feel of the bright constellations
raining down on my toes and heels
By the feel of friendships that end badly
Fate’s ocean is everywhere, all around me.
When you pass your 70s, no life jackets fit,
you are alone in the water. I see it in my dreams:
my timeline comes unhooked, floats off on its own.
I grip a bit of flotsam, hanging on too tight
to recapture my lovely timeline.
My knuckles are white from hanging on
and the timeline doesn’t care, doesn’t give
a tinker’s dam for my vexation.
Vexation without representation—
isn’t that unconstitutional?
Time is not measured in the minutes it takes
to fall from night into night, from dreams into dreams.
It’s really about the last few minutes of daylight
and how much dark you can stand.
3. A MOMENT’S PEACE
How can I ever know a moment’s peace
when your dark, smooth hair beds down inside my
soul with every breath? I have abandoned
my belief in geography and taken
on a faith in smiles straight off the masters’
canvases from your black-brown eyes to my
mind and then a trajectory the years
did not draw. I took your songs, filtered them
through my teeth and tongue, gave them away when
you ruled the time had come. My years have always
been fingernails—I bite and ravage both.
You said you liked the blue veins lurking below
my wrist skin. How can I ever know a
moment’s peace? Your long shadow has stood in
every doorway, in every elevator,
across every kitchen counter I’ve ever
known. Such powerful passion—call it love
(I did)—can scarcely be a curse, can it be?
Too many times around the sun has
tainted me with wisdom. I absolve you
of everything on this dread-filled planet.
I absolve you of everything.