Red-winged Blackbirds Return
By Merryn Rutledge
On a steely day in March my sister and I
are breathing hard from heaving snow off my driveway.
June, who lives in the South, grows tired from novel
exertion. Iíve had more practice, but Iím mortally tired
from bearing the weight of interminable winter and grief.
Overhead a cardinal trims the sky in swooping
scallops, singing do-whee-to, do-whee-to, do-whee-to,
momentarily loosening the shroud that wraps my mind
in my husbandís dying days, my shrunken life and
the taunt of daily mail that insists he still lives.
It is sweet to hear my sisterís breath and movement,
for months have passed without anyone here but ghosts.
We pause, leaning on our shovels. A chorus
of voices trills from the woods, the first red wings.
Oh, you have them too, June says, surprised.
Remember them in Arkansas on Grandmaís farm?
I heave into memory, seeing the July-ripe fields
rippling with heat but hear no birds when I query
the past. Right now I can barely recall the heart-leap
each year when here in Vermont, the red wingsí return
points me toward a spring that by all other signs
is impossible to believe in. In the coming days, as June,
who is Buddhist, calls on hosts of ancestors whose qualities
and wisdom witness to hope from far off lines,
my ears slowly awaken to Grandmaís red wings
feasting and singing pthrrreee-pthreeee-pthreee.
My sister magnifies the incarnate force of birds
that yearly return to the pale North—even now
to the lonely habitat inside me. Hear the company.
Copyright © 2020 by Merryn Rutledge.