The Bird Cards

Poem By Talvikki Ansel

A vesper sparrow sings
against a melon and lavender striped
sky, on another card,
the red-eyed vireo reaches up
to catch an insect.
I carry them slipped in an old envelope
with its curled window, address worn brown.

What turned up
on the desk: trading cards, a dead fly,
copy of Da Vinci's notebooks that fell open
at the book sale on the words: Define to me why
one who slides on the ice does not fall.

and, how many are the ways
in which a bird turns its straight movement
into a curving one?
Snow and more snow
blowing into the river.
Card with the corner folded down.
A merganser dives into open
water beneath the bridge, ice shifts
around her. Down, down again, shake of
salty drops
off the red serrated bill.

In the big family, the mother drops
the baby into the sister's bed, warm bottle
sweetened with baking soda, quick off
in her robe to fix breakfast.
Snow falling
erased against the white ice, white again
as it drops into ash-colored water
where the merganser dives.

Card three, the two white eggs no larger
than peas, scallop of ruby feathers under the chin,
from the white peas, impossible bird.
An uncle gave me the trading cards

with the painted birds, collected
from boxes of Baking Soda
when he was a boy, seventy years ago?
familiar, white,
creaky as snow (for a safe
fire extinguisher, simply tear open a one pound box
and pour contents on flames)
a hummingbird
buzzed out of the patch of jewelweed
by the barn, came back to the spot
where the trumpet vine flared.

Card with the vivid yellows and greens,
'whitchity, whitchity' the masked bird hops
from wild rose to poison ivy,
accosts you from a thicket behind windy dunes.

Outside Ithaca, 1927, Fuertes
who painted the birds, struck by a train and killed,
his car crossing railroad tracks.
That year
the boy who did not dive
into the frothing gorge of the river,
who hesitated while the bright bold ones
dove for their friend, lived.
He who people said was too slow,
thought too much at camp

became paler, read Thoreau,
pondered accident, circumstance,
drew the intricacies of flower parts
in his Aunt's garden.

Blunt edge of the bird's leading wing,
storm birds,
tiny alula, gray feather sticking out from the wing's bend,
2000 miles, blown sideways, foghorn
in sun, in snow.

Morning: yellow and green beaten leaves of the apple,
we peel off sweaters and slickers.
Flies stir on the washed-up kelp,
birds shriek from sun-warmed rocks.

Cave of snow under the snow-covered
skylight,
cars slow over the bridge,

you walked out in snow and back,
startled the birds at the feeder
with more suet and seed.
Eight years I've tried to write a poem.
Eight years, eight years—what is that to the locust,
the Rosa rugosa?

Paper flutters down to the floor by
the wastepaper basket,
layers the ground.

Card 4, card with the sky on its back.
Brings blue.
Brings light through the gap in the old siding.
Brings a hatted person bending to clip branches,
a man carrying a sack of sunflowers,
the stack of painted bird cards.
Brings the old hotel,
brings your fortune,
brings snow to the graying limbs of the apple,
a shade to tint the crocuses.

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Don'T Tell Me

it's iron, the bottle
crouched on its white pedestal,
long beak spout and wide open handle

Or Stay Again

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Tree List

Tree of the musky pods split open,
of almond-shaped leaflets, taut skin,
the Cooper's Hawk picking off a fat pigeon
in the bank parking lot,

Swallows

Summer's over, and we never even
drank at the Ocean House, that yellow
elegance they'll tear down this year.

Glaze

White putty under finger nails,
milky on fingerprints and the back of your t-shirt,
pushed between mullion and glass