Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A poem...about scarlet tanagers

Today on my lunch break, I took a short walk at Sportsman's Park and saw a scarlet tanager. For some reason, I've been seeing tons of them this year, not that I'm complaining! The beginning of a poem started percolating through my head. As soon as I got home, I grabbed my notebook and tried to tease the rest of it out. This is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it.

The Tanager

At lunch time, as I walked the short path
at Sportman's Park, by Lake Decatur, suddenly,
I saw a scarlet tanager,
a bird so insanely, incandescently red,
compared to which, all other shades
of red are mere approximations,
perching there, like the heart of flames,
the Platonic messenger of pure color;
shimmering as if the sun itself can
barely stand to witness such intensity.

Seeing this bird, I knew at last what
my eyes are for, and was devastated to think of
the three decades in which I never saw, or sought,
a tanager's profound and world-altering scarletness
hiding in the branches. Now, that lapse
is unthinkable, a closely averted catastrophe.

Some wonder if you can miss
something you never knew. In that moment,
of myself and the tanager, I understood beyond
a doubt: the answer is yes.
Long before I knew to miss them, a
tanager-sized hole perched inside me,
a gap in my soul that only
the sight of a scarlet tanager could fill.

If someday it comes to pass, that these
incandescent birds depart, whether due to loss of
habitat, or congenial climate, or some other form
of human carelessness, that tanager-sized gap
will only grow until it fills the universe
with its emptiness, a wound that tears
through all of us,
through everything, a wound that
nothing but a scarlet tanager
could heal.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love this poem! I, too, had a tanager-sized hole inside me, and it ached, even though I didn't know why. Yes, we can miss what we've never known, and not knowing makes us less than we were meant to be. Thank you for sharing a beautiful poem!