Bio Note: Retired from UW-Madison, I’m a poet and painter—and gardener in a plot in one of the country's oldest, and largest, community gardens, Eagle Heights, where we’ve just put in our leeks and onion sets. My poems have appeared recently in The Hudson Review, and Poetry East; The Only Home We Know (Tebot Bach, 2019) is my most recent book. Birdwatching has been our pandemic solace.
The Chimney Swifts of Madison
August and September evenings they gather, after fledglings have grown and gone, after eating their daily weight in insects, before they fly to South America for winter months-- begin to circle the old school's chimney stack. High up, twittering, they call in each other from across our city, last mosquitoes and early moths snatched up as they turn and turn over the stack, the parking lot, our small selves perched on rocks or standing there, our tripods set up to catch the circle of smoke that they become as light departs and they spiral down, the stragglers joining in to drop, one by one by many one, out of sight, into the dark lined with bodies clinging to rough cement and we find our hearts, caught in pandemic fear, lifted, enfolded, brought home to rest in the kindred dark.
Companioned by Birds
It's November and I'm taking a leisurely half-hour to eat breakfast and watch the sun's rays fall through the few leaves left--the colors rich as the burgundy of a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, orange as the navels and Valencias in my bowl, yellow as the cornbread in the iron skillet (its black as black as the locust trunks behind the house). And the green that is left is a spatter of grass wanting cutting, while a red twine of creeper climbs the cherry trees, becoming a Renoir backdrop to the life all around us: twitter of sparrows, chirp of the same small chipmunk richly robed in his chestnut- and-ermine striped coat, sitting up on his usual corner of deck under our yew, eating his morning seeds left to him by the grackles and jays, one at a time, delicately, one eye on me while I finish my cornbread, my oatmeal; though first, like me, he's washed his face with his paws, and his coat, just as I've brushed and brushed my hair into silver and gray; and together we watch the birds come to the birdbath and feeder as we eat. Tuscan rust of clay saucer, blue-sky shimmer of water, shining column of grains holding harvest--waiting to see the chickadee with his black cap and finicky habit of taking only one sunflower seed a time, flying off to a branch to eat it while the juncos in their frock coats sober-gray search below for millet seeds. I'm waiting, too, to see again among the flock of sparrows in the yew that one new one I've been glimpsing all week, come to the feeder again with his flicker of white tail feathers that mark him outsider among the chestnuts of the rest--- I've searched through Audubon's bird book to be sure I can call his name—"hello, vesper sparrow!" Though tomorrow I'll learn it's "goodbye" I should have said to Brother chipmunk, who must be sleeping now for the winter on his storehouse of seed while I breakfast with those who have less need of my company in their squabbles over seed.
Elizabeth Facetimes him once a week, her friend's parrot, Percy, who bobs and bobs until Elizabeth shows him on her phone where her cat is, warming itself on her iPad--then Percy settles down to listen as she reads, with expression, as the good librarian she once was, another chapter of Winnie the Pooh, showing Percy the drawings of Pooh and Piglet braving the Hundred Acre Woods or cheering up Eeyore as far as they're able-- he takes it in, an Amazon parrot who'll live for forty to sixty years --and why didn't we think to think that a bird with the smarts of at least a four-year-old human child wouldn't be as hungry for company as Pooh is for honey, and a librarian always eager to read a good story, even confined to her apartment's rooms?
©2021 Robin Chapman
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