On a mission through the school’s main hall
a casual glance through the glass wall
—fresh mulch, a sea of woody brown
a few dead leaves scattered round
It registers after I pass
something else beyond the glass
something crumpled on the woody bed
a conspicuous spot of red.
I turn around.
A bird, lying on the ground
flat on its back
speckled white and black
white claws curled, scarlet head.
Little woodpecker. Dead.
Flew into the glass wall, it’s clear
from the way it’s lying here.
A broken neck, I think
—but then, then—I see it blink.
What comfort can I give?
Is it even going to live?
I mustn’t touch it, must let it be
I won’t have it die for fear of me.
The hall’s deserted, what to do
people are waiting for me, too
—I’ll hurry. I can never atone
for letting it die alone.
On my hasty return, a wondrous sight
the woodpecker, sitting upright
scarcely moving, still dazed.
I am amazed.
It opens one eye, tests its beak
assessing the damage wreaked
turns that stunning head
of breathtaking red.
I silently celebrate
as I watch and pray and wait
for that one eye remaining shut
to be all right, to open, to see—but
the instant it does, without warning
with a flurry of wings, off in the morning
he goes. I didn’t see him fall
from my side of this glass wall.
I’m just here, rejoicing, for his open eyes
his reclaimed strength, his reclaimed skies.
My heart goes with him, as he flies
—I saw him rise.
5 thoughts on “After”
This post left me with a feeling of hope.
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This is lovely, Fran, and unfolds beautifully as a poem. And, oh the craft of that single word “Fall” and it’s multiple levels of meaning, that turning point. “Hope is the thing with feathers” and I’m so thankful for the swell of optimism and hope your poem creates.
PS Did you know that’s a red-bellied woodpecker? They are much-appreciated visitors to my suet feeder here.
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Thank you, Molly, for noting the use of “Fall” and for the Dickinson reference – hope is indeed “the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul.” I felt my humanity deeply and inadequately on seeing this beautiful bird lying so still on its back. Couldn’t believe it was alive – that eye blinking – I really thought it was dying and suffering terribly in the process. I wanted to help and didn’t know how. To to see it recuperate so quickly and take flight again is almost beyond my power to describe. Joy – exhilaration – even an aching of the heart: “Sings the tune without the words.” Yes – I knew it was a red-bellied woodpecker – so oddly named! The females’ red tint on their bellies hardly seems enough to warrant this. I’ve never seen a woodpecker up close before. So beautiful. It deserved an ode. I imagine your feeder is ablaze with color. 🙂
Oh, how I feared a sad ending, and cheered for the bird with you. I’m watching a spider now, just outside our kitchen window for weeks. Her respinning of the web day in and day out brings me a small joy.
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I often think about the healing power of nature and writing, and how the desire for these are deeply embedded in us. Full of intricate simplicity, like your spinning spider. There’s such peace in it.