Counterbalance (4)

It hits me this morning when I open the gate. My white-crowned sparrows are gone. Every last one. There’s no one perched on the wall across my little road, no one sitting in a gap in the hedge above the cinder blocks. I begin to cry even as I wish them good, safe travels in my heart. I am lonelier now than I was before I knew. (I’m glad, though, to know this loss can still reach all the way through me.) After I fill the bird feeders (but not the one I had tucked inside the bougainvillea for my sparrows), I put on my mask and walk to Ralph’s to buy more seed, spearmint tea, mushrooms and celery and garlic for soup. At the corner, a woman turns left beside me. Her mask is pulled down, her car window open. She smiles at me, big and warm. I smile back behind my mask and wave. We’re both moving in different directions, so our encounter is fleeting, but I can tell by her open face she feels me smiling back at her. Maybe she sees it in my eyes. This one long moment between us fills me up, buoys me. I know these smiles of ours must be energetic, too, boosts of love and good will shooting out of us. But I am a novice still. I fretted first that we’d lost each other’s smiles, hidden behind our masks. Now I look for nuance. A gift, maybe, of our pandemic, this growing awareness, the deep subtlety of each exchange.

A Good Day for Today (1)

I didn’t get that long walk I’d hoped for today, didn’t take any walk at all, not even to the mailbox. I did go outside, though, after my late nap, stepping from the dark house into my courtyard to stand with my head back, sponging up the clean air and the glittering stars, Venus like a bright fist in the sky, the moon not yet rising. My solar lights seemed brighter, too, washed by yesterday’s rain, companions as I returned to the dark trailer, closed the windows in the back room, turned on the kitchen lights, scrubbed the dregs of white basmati rice from the pressure cooker. After my late afternoon meal, I’d let sleep claim me instead of the dream of my long walk, and deep sleep came. (They were both my dreams, the long nap and the long walk, on this penultimate day of my holiday. The nap was truncated but delicious, swallowing up the last window of light, swallowing the walk.) This morning I watched a house finch on the bougainvillea singing with his whole body, my joy matching his song. I yelled at my mother this afternoon, the first time in a while. (Not a very long while, but still.) “I was just really hoping for a small window of peace,” I said, after. Tonight, with hot tea steeping beside me, I can hear one lone cricket in the courtyard, feel fresh, cold air on my shoulder. I can hear a distant smoke alarm that’s been going off for two days now, another layer of stress, however subtle, a metaphor for our world in this pandemic. Maybe all we can do is bring ourselves back again and again, grab fistfuls of joy from the sky, reach for each small window of peace we can find, even with a smoke alarm always wailing in the background.

Still Life with Hummingbird (61)

When the hawk leaves, I go outside the gate to get the newspaper. I stand beside the tecoma bush, enjoying its bright yellow blooms. Then the way a thin crescent moon reveals itself in a pale blue afternoon sky from one moment to the next, I see the hummingbird. He is upside down. He must have died perched on the small twig, his tiny talons still wrapped around it. I slide him off, place him in the shallow blue ceramic bowl I bought last month at the funky yearly sale here in the trailer park. I pick tecoma blossoms and bougainvillea, lay them in the bowl with him, one curved beside his beak, nectar for his journey to the world that lives here beside our own. I find a polished stone in my cupboard, small, not quite round. I lay it near his head, and it seems his companion in the greens and blacks and ruby reds of it, the two of them like gems beside each other.

Sudden Hawk (60)

A moment after the house sparrow flies off with the big feather in his beak, a small male Cooper’s hawk swoops in and lands on the wooden gate, not two feet from where the sparrow sat with his find. This bird always stops my breath, the marvel of his arrival. Today he holds still, his strong talons clutching the tops of the faded redwood boards. He swivels his head, his sharp eyes taking in small movements in the courtyard. He makes the small chirping sounds I love, the ones that feel like conversation or commentary, the ones that make me want to speak bird. I talk to him through the screen door, and he tilts his head to the side as if he’s studying me through the glass. Then in one quick motion he glides below the edge of the gate and is gone.

Bird with Feather (59)

I’m just getting up, sitting up in the middle of my bed. There’s a small bird perched on the top of the wooden fence outside my sliding glass door. His back is to me, and his stance looks awkward, as if he is a bit off kilter. It looks like there’s something in his mouth. He repositions his feet on the rough wood, turns himself around. I see he is a house sparrow, a big grey and white mourning dove feather held in his beak with a firm grip. It’s so surprising I almost laugh out loud. He looks like that notecard I bought online from Pomegranate, the one I love so much I bought a second box, a colorful illustration of a bird with a feather as big as he is. I’ve never seen a bird carrying such a big feather, not in real life. I sit here grinning at him. He fidgets a little more, repositioning his feet again on the fence. Then he flies off across the courtyard and disappears with his treasure.

Owl Love (56)

I race all day
and at dusk
I walk out my mother’s gate
and hear
a great horned owl
in the neighbor’s tree
I stop
stand still
listen
feel the earth
under me
fill my lungs
with rain washed air
caress this big bird
in my heart
his soft whoots
follow me back
inside
blessed.

Downtown (54)

Shade
on a bench downtown
the hummingbird pokes
orange tecoma blossoms
beside me
rubs his beak against the bark
the town quiet
the air clean
the mountains close
and well loved
I savor this respite
after the earlier frenzy
and ready myself for
my Amtrak bus.