The bright sun yesterday afternoon wasn’t the reason the woman had her camera trained onto a branch of the oak tree that stands outside the Temple. Other onlookers began to congregate as they strolled past after their lunches and I, too, walked by and looked up. There on the branch was a beautiful buteo, by my guess a lovely red tail, simply taking a breather after his lunch, at rest between tasks.
Watching the people watching the bird would have been pleasant enough, but it was more fun to slow down further, pause, and really take in the bird’s height; the band of brown across the creamy chest; his sudden idea to give himself a quick preen, perhaps to dig out some kind of mite that had lodged in his feathers. I thought this hawk a gift to us passersby, to our scene, to our day. Wouldn’t you?
Fast forward 16 hours to the dismal, wet morning that greeted us commuters today as we congregated in the local coffee shop, avoiding the weather and grabbing a seat . Latte in hand, I reached into my bag to pull out the thin, trim volume of verse I’d been reading, Robert Wrigley’s, Lives of the Animals. Nearly convinced after the first three poems that I’d read this before, I decided to read one more to confirm my suspicions.
Perhaps it’s just as well we can’t foresee the future, for the next thing I knew I was reaching for the brave face but sitting, crying, complete with tears and all breath sucked out of me. ‘Explanatory’ (p. 8-9) had managed to unhinge me in less than a minute with its account of the poet’s ascent to the owl nest and his devotion to the birds. I can say no more: those who love poetry will understand at once the rush of simultaneous joy and pain in poems that take hold of our souls and shake us. In them we both ache and rejoice. We can’t go back to the day ahead the way we were. We are changed, taken out, ruffled up, and afterward, in the comfortable warmth of a train car, we close our eyes, lean back, and give ourselves up to the helpless wonder at our good fortune. We just read something great. We must go back before going ahead.
Now I think of the buteo. Of rising from my coffee shop chair. And though it looked like I was walking to the platform with my feet, I was really rising to soar with my invisible wings, breathless.
Wrigley, Robert. Lives of the Animals. Penguin Books, 2003.
Thanks to him!