It’s nuthatch on the box elder outside the window.
He’s making his clown’s voice, nnink, nning, nnink,
pecking to grubs, seeds, scraps.
The first snow powdered down
last night while he slept, and as
birds have dreams there’s snow in his song now.
Nighthawk heard it. He is gone.
Warbler heard it. She is gone.
Thrasher went. Finch went.
You could hear them at night, little bells
so far off you thought they were the stars ringing.
I sat on an empty hill and said goodbye.
The geese, like tragic actresses, keep nothing to themselves.
They eat down the center of the air
crying, and crying, how the white north
snaps behind them, how their nests are shoveled under,
how their circle is broken
by fox, bullet, and cold.
The geese, like the practiced keeners my great-grandmothers
used to pay when they had
no more salt to cry with,
bark for us all, uninhibited, bleating
on God’s doorstep how He has wronged us,
how we suffer in His circles, round and round.
On Salina Street the hag with a hollow for a left eye
cries Jesus, Jesus, come and be saved.
She puts on her black coat.
Her old hand is nail and January to the bone.
Put a coin in her talon, a cold coin.
Take her pamphlet and let it ride the wind
as the geese ride, flapping, rattling.
Put a coin in the black mouth
and hear it cry Jesus Jesus,
hear is cry Jesus Jesus.
I swear the geese and the nighthawks and the hags
must cry something different when they come home
with the sun pulled up behind them
and the long hills waking from the five month bad dream.
I have not heard it in so long.
I have heard the nuthatch in the box elder outside the window,
laughing, scrounging. He stays and dies,
or stays, and stays.