There is one on nearly every shelf of the antique shop,
and on walls, on tables, under tables:
the tin, the china, the paper maché
bluebirds and jays and chickadees,
the eagles carved out of cherry or walnut.
It is as if, in a century of work and sickness,
the light dim, the food scant and quickly cooling,
in the few idle minutes before sleep
people said, “Now it is time
to work on my bird figurine.”
The woman settles her child to bed, and resumes
stuffing straw into a house-wren pin cushion,
or, she paints a robin onto a teacup, partner to the saucer
brightened with a nest, and three moonlit eggs.
The man still wearing the sweat of the field
leans toward the fire, carries a piece of it
to the top of a blanket chest, wherein he burns
a mallard, an unfortunate horse-like eye.
And this is not to mention the marble penguins
flanking the pen-holder,
the red geese circling the cereal bowl,
the wall sconce shaped like the head of a parrot,
and not to mention the needlework,
the bridal veil, its scalloped edge filmy with swans,
the baby sweater with its duck-shaped pockets.
From the hat rack topped with an owl
to the footstool upholstered with needlepoint peacocks,
it becomes possible to imagine a bird figure on every surface,
and to imagine the hands perched above fabric,
stitching silk threads into tail feathers and talons,
to imagine the fingers dipping into water
and swooping across clay, finding
that place where the throat swells into breast,
that place where we forget we cannot fly
except into our work.
“Bird Figurines” is reprinted with permission from Keeping Time, (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2002).