Birds in the 21st Century
They were not necessary. We regarded them as we did sequins on a sweater or the movement of rickrack around a hem. Birds were doodles in the margins of our pages. They were not essential like air and water, but they filled the trees with music, added color to winter and amazed us with their tiny powers of flight. They were always busy pulling worms from the ground, sleeping with one eye open while balancing on a wire. You try it. Their motley nests in ivy, in corners, in trees, on the ground hid them from us and smaller predators. Their eggs wore the tartans of different country sides or opted for sky blue, but birds stopped being necessary when we moved inside. Once we read the weather in their migrations, but now there’s tv. Sometimes a warbler thumped into a window and dropped stunned or worse. Children buried them with beloved pets; some birds weighed less than a penny. The birds needed to hear each other sing so they stayed up later, rose earlier because of human din. Illumination everywhere all the time wore them out. No one found long jewels of blue jay feathers in the grass. Bird baths grew moss. Bugs thrived, even less reason to go outside. People who remembered birds were asked again and again to describe how ducks landed feet first on a pond, how hawks snatched sparrows from the air, how, with a great deal of fluttering, the cardinal mates landed on the windowsill to feed each other seeds, and about the wren who lined her nest with rabbit fur. Unbelievable that such small, inventive creatures so unlike us lived in our lifetime, magicians of the air, sign of spring, what I hang around my neck in shame.
by Elizabeth Kerlikowske
Editor’s note: The heartbreaking message of this prose poem is delivered through the repetition of denial—adding more and more impact to a difficult theme.