The Birds

We sent a canary into the coal mine
a swan to cross the tundra
a dove into the desert
a woodpecker to a dark and tangled forest
a sparrow to the grassland dry as tinder
a dipper to a stream in a jewelled meadow
a tern across the ocean
a ptarmigan into a blizzard
and an owl to face the night

then we watched for their return
through all the hours and days
of silence without them
and when none had returned
we sent a grosbeak to a canyon where the trees
had recently burned
a phoebe to a bed of dry stone
and a cuckoo to the canopy of cottonwoods
along a river reduced to a whisper

then we waited
so long everyone had forgotten
what birds are

until a warbler flew unexpectedly out of the light
yellow and black with some
was it orange was it brown
on the throat
but singing
that we were sure about
its song was so beautiful we wanted
nothing but to listen
we wanted nothing any more we could keep
only the song we knew
would never be ours




David Chorlton
Montage: Claire Palmer

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