The dog pulls at the wing of a dead sparrow
and she shoos him off, a small shovel in the other
hand already digging for the burial. Bless this mess
you have made, O Lord.
We’ve been practicing praying
lately at dinner, careful not to ask for things
(although we ask for things inside)—I’m trying
to be more thankful, more blesséd than beast,
I’m trying to come to terms with my place
in the world, my feet in the soil, the grass
of Tennessee rising up through my toes and I’m trying
not to show my disappointment that even here,
in the beautiful mountains, the wretched Bermuda grows.
It’s the smallest thing can send me off. The sound
of new birds, fresh and beautiful songs, the sound
of her voice in the morning singing hymns, parodies
of hymns, but always in the parody the recognition
of something wholly worth repeating in the original.
The dappled thing as a wing. Hope as that thing
with feathers. The surface and symbol and my reading
versus the “deeper” meaning, children, go
where I send thee.
She has dreams of flying at night,
as do many, probably you, my reader, but I can
recall no such dreams of my own. Recurring dreams include:
waking up with one leg longer than the other,
the inability to climb stairs, a fist swung in the direction
of some adversary at a pace so slow it thickens
to the last drop of sorghum as it comes off the spoon,
the biscuit right there, waiting. So when I awake
I pray to shake my fist and turn it into a wing.
I pray to pull the rabbit out of the hat, and with the small
shimmer of a purple handkerchief set it flying
in the form of two white doves.
Two bodies, one soul,
and the rabbit thus knows what we all know, what pangs
us as the shadow of some creature in the sky makes
Audubon gone down the river and in the morning
out to hunt the local wildlife. Once, in my younger days,
while goose hunting, a bird I shot came down straight
toward me, like a projectile from the sky, claiming revenge
or hoping for an embrace as it landed feet from me,
I’m not sure what it meant—I’ve thought out every possible symbol
of that sign, I’ve wondered if it was some sort of omen.
In my last house a group of turkey vultures made a nest
near the tree line at the edge of the field out back.
The deer came, the raccoons came, the opossums
and foxes and the crepuscular creatures that ate
while the dew was fresh. In the distance of the night,
the barn owl. In the day, the circling turkey vultures.
Months they flew daily, until I came to accept the fact
that death lingered at my doorstep, or near, it was breathing
something cold through summer’s old wire screen.
And they flew, just as the owls hooted, and when
I waved to my neighbor one day, to have one of our
conversations about weather and the future and family
in the middle of the street, she sat against her hoe and said:
Well, I guess my husband died today. And it was that simple,
and that inaccurate. That much of a stab at the fact,
sixty-five years of marriage and so when they’re gone
you can never be too sure, and shouldn’t, a guess being
the best gesture you can make, because death is biological
but also spiritual, or metaphorical, death is nothing
at all really, from a certain perspective.
I am not well, these days.
The world is much with me. And the rain comes now,
and in the back of my pick-up sits one of the last loads
of our move here getting wet. The weight bench: wet.
The turkey fryer: wet. The camping gear and the other small things
that take the longest to arrive. They travel so slowly
because they appear so inconsequential, so small, so slight
as a ticking on the wall in the other room, a starling
pushing hard against a great northern wind. Wet now,
as the birds sit in the trees wet, or sit wherever they go
when it rains, who knows where, it’s so rare
to see them in this weather, or hear them, as if they can
turn off the frequency of their beings at times, and disappear,
to return again as birds, or dead birds the dog finds,
empty vessels, set down by a soul that felt something
in the rain, something in a human, something in flight,
set down here for her to bury and remember
that, at times, she too, has flown.
Clay Matthews has published two books of poetry: Superfecta (Ghost Road Press) and Runoff (BlazeVOX Books). His third book, Pretty, Rooster, a collection of English sonnets, is forthcoming this fall from Cooper Dillon Books.