We went walking through the arboretum
at the end of our last summer together,
admiring the plants as they inhaled
and exhaled in the August heat, caught
up in the squint of eyes in deep slant sunlight
and the simple solace of being palm to palm.
Through slats of honeyed light and shade
I saw motion in the flattened grass up ahead,
beneath the scabbed branches of a dogwood tree.
The gentle fidget took the form of a baby bird,
damp with bluish feathers, fallen
or pushed from its nest somewhere above.
It looked skyward through the slit
of its narrowed eye that bulged, half shut
and dark, like a bruise from its head.
The repeated shrug of a broken wing
almost raised it from the dirt, but could not
shake the ants, which crawled on over its body,
feelers prodding at the soft, bald places, unbothered
by the shudder of a fast infant heart beat below.
What do we do? I asked. I let go of his hand.
I dropped to my knees and watched
the ants stutter over the bird’s skin.
The chest rose and fell, as if moved by a tiny
accordion breathing silent music inside.
I felt his hand on my back and heard
his mouth saying I don’t know and more
people came to watch the slow show
and none of them knew what to do, either.
I ached, I ached at nature’s strange patterns,
the helpless gape of the bird’s open mouth,
the simple origami of his fingers
when they folded into mine, the lines
of light and shadow drawn in the blades
of grass. The flesh beneath the feathers
was as pink as sherbet. It looked like it had been born
that day, a summer baby that would not see the brisk
umber evenings of fall.
I had never seen a thing so young.
And still we left it as we found it, alone
with the sunlight, and the birdsong, and the breeze.