Because I never learned the names of birds
I practiced saying “cormorant” with my sons
reading Ping to them at bedtime. We tasted
the name, three syllables stretching into pre
historic wings, flapping inside our mouths.
Mother owned field glasses to view
warblers, woodpeckers, waxwings
until winter when cardinals collected
in flocks on pine trees. She knew the
names of birds—chickadees, swallows,
meadowlarks, owls, orioles—these she
loved with tender heart saved just for them
as well as for wrens, doves, swans, geese,
a colony of gulls... anything that flew.
Because I learned the names of poets,
I owned books, read Shelley, Dickinson,
Poe. I knew nothing about tertials, nests,
wingtips, hatching, or migration. Mother said
birds have light but strong skeletons and a
four-chambered heart. I said Harper Lee wrote
about mockingbirds, they never hurt anybody,
that it’s a sin to kill one. I greeted Mother, “Hail
to thee blithe spirit!” as she peered into trees.
That’s Percy Shelley speaking to a skylark.
Wallace Stevens said there’s thirteen ways to look
at a blackbird. But I knew none. Not even one.
I have, since Mother died, become absorbed with birds.
Ping was a little yellow duck, the last to return, and
almost devoured. These days I pronounce “cor-mor-ant”
slowly, like a prayer, the same way I say “sand-hill-crane”
“chick-a-dee” “car-di-nal” as I offer the names of birds
like little poems like pieces of bread to my mother.
Sandra Frye is a retired English teacher who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Sandra has been writing poetry and stories since the age of ten. After teaching for thirty years and raising four sons, she can finally focus her energy on creative writing. She has written two books and is currently working on a third. She is also working on her first book of poetry, Leaving Lessons. Her first book, African Dreams: A Memoir of Service and Salvation, is about teaching English with the Peace Corps in Malawi, East Africa, from 1969 to 1971. The second book, Fatherless: A Memoir of Acceptance and Forgiveness, is about growing up in the midwest as a child of divorced parents in the 1950s.
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