Ground Birds in Open Country

John Ruskin, Study of a peacock feather, 1863

John Ruskin, Study of a peacock feather, 1863

They fly up in front of you so suddenly,
tossed, like gravel, by the handful,
kicked like snow or dead leaves into life.
Or if it's spring they break back and forth
like schools of fish silver at the surface,
like the swifts I saw in the hundreds
over the red tile roofs of Assisi—
they made shadows, they changed sunlight,
and at evening, before vespers,
waved back to the blackbird nuns.
My life list is one bird at a time long,
what Roethke calls looking. The eye,
particular for color, remembers when 
a treeful would go gray with applause,
in the middle of nowhere, in a one-oak field.
I clapped my hands just for the company.
As one lonely morning, green under glass,
a redwing flew straight at me, its shoulders
slick with rain that hadn't fallen yet.
In the birdbook there, where the names are,
it's always May, and the thing so fixed
we can see it—Cerulean, Blackpoll, Pine.
The time one got into the schoolroom
we didn't know what it was, but it sang,
it sailed along the ceiling on all sides,
and blew back out, wild, still lost,
before any of us, stunned, could shout
it down. And in a hallway once,
a bird went mad, window by locked window,
the hollow echo length of a building.
I picked it up closed inside my hand.
I picked it up and tried to let it go.
They fly up so quickly in front of you,
without names, in the slurred shapes of wings.
Scatter as if shot from twelve-gauge guns.
Or they fly from room to room, from memory
past the future, having already gathered
                in great numbers on the ground.
 Stanley Plumly
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. oh, boy.

  2. Years ago, back East I came home late one evening and spotted a wicker basket covered with towel in the hall to the living room. Never at a loss for curiosity I took off thectiwel and out flew a ruffed grouse. My younger brother apparently discovered it on the way home stunned in the bushes perhaps poisoned by the mountain laurel profusely covering the land. Mother proceeded to feed him with an eye dropper and the put him to rest fir the evening or at least until I came. Mr. Grouse took acsrld guided tour of the house until when all awoke we ushered him to the exit. Free at last.

  3. Good grief….. this I phone has a mind of its own. With the towel removed Mr. Grouse took a self guided tour of the house until he reached the exit.


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