Pecking Order —Robert Gibb
First the harlequin-masked cardinal,
Crest sleeked back, red the way the robin is,
Only in the song. After that the chickadees,
Their black-capped micro-bursts,
The patchwork-quilted turkeys
Scrounging the ground for seeds.
In the bird book they’re grouped by species,
Each a carbon copy of its kind.
Each a dead ringer
In the museum where I first discovered them
Arranged in order like the elements.
Now one of the congregate sparrows
Darts back down to the feeder,
And that bird the smoke-streaked sepia
Of the old industrial Pittsburgh dusk.
Titmouse, goldfinch, warbler, wren ...
Then, round-robin, the cardinal again.
He’s the only bird left at the feeder,
Staring straight up
Into the spicules of rain
That have been falling again
All day. In on myself,
Days in a row at the windows,
I’m haunting the house,
Rammy to get back to my body
Wrist-deep in the steeping mat
Of compost out back,
Tucking lettuce in its frilly beds,
Spacing the string-staked drills.
Again this morning
I watched that line of light
As it widened into the sky,
The world taking root in the rain
To fast-forward past me,
The way it does each spring.
I check and that small bird’s
Still out there, staring up
Into the downpour
Into which he’ll disappear
When even he has had his fill.
When, another day, the titmouse
Flays its seeds,
Head manic as a telegraph key.