High summer. Sunset, leaning. On the lawn,
the knot of curious seekers tightens, drawn
to tease apart the known and the unknown
by squinting at a soot-stained chimney stack.
Around its tower, arcing flecks of black:
the swifts, drawn by the dark, are coming back.
One comet from their reeling galaxy
curves in, approaching asymptotically,
then veers again, away from certainty
till finally, yanked on some uncanny string,
with the barest flicking motion of a wing
it brakes in air above the opening
and drops. And seven voices sing out, “One!”
as, denser by the minute, swifts return
to the black-hole center of this darkened sun,
falling at last so thick no human sight
is certain by itself of being right.
They call out numbers in the failing light
to firm their grip on facts, though it’s unclear
what use these are, or where they go from here
as progress makes the chimneys disappear.
One conjured total settled on the page,
they scatter in goodbyeing badinage.
The moon’s half-measure blurs along its edge.
Editor’s Note: The rhyming tercets of these lines reflect the disorganized organization of birds flocking. Just when you think they’re about to collide, the beauty of their flight coalesces into something stunning. So, too, does this poem coalesce into a moment a still snapshot could not capture properly.