Out of the tops of dead trees strides a stick warrior. He's in silhouette, his face less than profile, but it's a beast's face. Leonine, perhaps? And he's helmeted, unless that sprout of horns is his own: a bull's face? He wields a spear curved at the hilt, its shaft burred with rags of viscera; he lunges it at the sky…
I had looked up, hearing the hawk cry out, but instead, spied him; quickly, for proof, I took this picture. But rather than vanishing, he froze, transfixed—transmogrified somehow into wood.
Until I moved a few steps off, into an altered perspective—where, turning, I found him gone.
At a fascist rally today in Charlottesville, a Nazi from Ohio will rev his Dodge Challenger at the crowd. My friend among the counter marchers will report another car on 4th St, making multiple passes at them, how they must bolt and dive. The President will release a blistering, or blustering condemnation, nimbly not taking sides. Oh, the battles that have raged, that we still wage, we stick people. Not knowing our gods from devils, and impugning both; slipping off into the trees.
Is it time, yet, to unnumb from the spell, my countrymen? To let branches be limbs, and dead wood, steel?
Goldfinches, Echinacea Flowers
"Are you homeless?" asks the black woman in the bright yellow pantsuit. Actually, I don't understand what she's asking—she's inside her parked car with a window down, calling out across her teenage daughter in the passenger seat.
"Am I homely?" I ask back. That would be true enough: I'm forty years and forty pounds past my prime; I'm shuffling along in my baggiest cords, hauling a recently hobbled leg. But she gestures instead at my grocery bag. "Are you homeless? Because I see a lot of homeless people out on the streets, carrying their grocery bags, and I give them food, you know?"
"Oh. Well, no, I'm not homeless. I'm headed to that grocery store on the corner there. But I do appreciate," I say, endeavoring to mean it, "the thought."
The next day, I've told my workshop group the tale. I'm fretting about my apparent decrepitude. "You should have worked it!" they reply instead. "Asked if she had a vidalia onion! Some fresh arugula!" Well, fine. I give them a chuckle. I sip my buttermint tea.
Out in our hostess's garden, goldfinches are bopping about the echinacea flowers like they're little trampolines. They whistle as I shamble by to my car. One even poses for a photo op, giving me the eye and waggling. Such a handsome fellow! as if to sing. Not you, oh not you! but I am!
T'ai Chi With The Finches: Summer Palace, June 1992
For a moment, the two of them seem as alike as birds.
Less in their features—for the people of this great lurch forward—
with their tides of bicycles, and their first low surf
of motor vehicles, and their high, wide surge of cranes—
are as distinguishable to an American eye as any humans—
it's more in the way they come at us.
In white shirts, dark slacks, the standard garb;
simultaneously bobbing their brass brown heads;
as each swings at the same slight angle, lightly away from him,
like careful groceries, two bamboo cages.
Soon, the pair will pick out a patch of ground.
The finches, dangled from a branch, will tune in their pleasant radio.
The men, with an immensely contained belligerence,
will bow, spin, breathe, and smite the air.
All week, we've seen them at their t'ai chi:
The people of this city—of throng, and thrust, and busyness—
as they rinse, for an hour of grace, their lives of fret.
Mao had the sparrows who ravaged the crops
drummed up from the bushes, into the sky, and slain.
Once they lay dead in their millions, it transpired
that what the birds had actually gorged on
was the insects that ravaged the crops.
They're the number one national pet now, these finches.
And here they are, singsonging away again,
without recrimination or alarm, as the shadow jousters of Beijing
tilt, and carve their slices
out of the barely polluted air.
poem & photo originally published in Stone Bridge Café