Suzanne Cleary

Bird Figurines

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).