Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quick and Quirky

The buzz bzzzt buzzz was annoying and close, disturbing the few minutes of peace I'd snagged to read in the back room that had once been a porch. Come to think of it, I'd been hearing it all afternoon. Stepping through the laundry room to the tiny back-stairs landing (what's left of the outside portion of the porch), I stood transfixed by the flit and flutter of some tiny upstart perky-tailed birds all around the back yard. Definitely them making all the noise.

There had to be a flock...or maybe just four or five, or wait, really just two moving around so fast they seemed like a multitude. Up on the eaves of the nearby garage, over in the roses, down on the end of the kid's slide below me, bouncing through the branches of the plum tree, moving too fast for my poor old eyes to track. And such a brash little thing, suddenly hopping along the railing not even two feet from me, flicking its standing-straight-up-at-attention tail, chut-chut-chut, it goes, posing for a micro-second, only long enough for me to glimpse a long thin white streak just above its pert eyes, like a uni-brow borrowed from Steve Martin. Then, down it flits, to weave in and out the lattice work along the steps in quick hops, reminding me of a game from my suddenly ancient childhood (and the song that went with it): Go In and Out the Window. Cheeky rascals; endearing.

It didn't take so long with Sibley's to identify the sassy little things. Bewick's wrens, facing extirpation in parts of the East Coast, but still abundant here in the West. And it's only taken me another day to realize they are nesting right under the porch.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Deborah Digges, 1950 - 2009:

"Darwin's Finches"

My mother always called it a nest,
the multi-colored mass harvested

from her six daughters' brushes,
and handed it to one of us

after she had shaped it, as we sat in front
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand
of spider's web, or horse's mane,

the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses
near a fold

where every summer of her girlhood
hundreds nested.

Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius—
how they transform the useless.

I've seen plastics stripped and whittled
into a brilliant straw,

and newspapers—the dates, the years—
supporting the underweavings.

As tonight in our bed by the window
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean

the brush as my mother did, offering
the nest to the updraft.

I'd like to think it will be lifted as far
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,

or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets,
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects

lay their eggs.
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks
off islands they called paradise,

stood in the early sunlight
cutting their hair. And the rare

birds there, nameless, almost extinct,
came down around them

and cleaned the decks
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.

Deborah Digges

I didn't know Deborah Digges,had never met her, but I treasured her poetry, so enriched by her keen eye, her deeply reflective mind. I slurped up her memoir, "Stardust Lounge," too. She told it straight about raising her son through adolescence, about what it was really like with a difficult, challenging person, about paying attention to the teen, not the advice books. I didn't know her but whenever I read her forthright work, I feel like I'm with her; feeling the tug of hairbrush, setting the hair-nest free, waiting for a thirteen year old's call.

Here's a link through the Valparaiso Poetry Review of Deborah Digges reading her work just last month in Pasadena for an event co-sponsored by Red Hen Press and Claremont Graduate University.