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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Words and Birds - IWSG June 2020

It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh. To find links to other IWSG contributors, click here. Co-hosts for the June posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, J.Q. Rose, and Natalie Aguirre.

Back in February, we were trying anything we could to get my husband well enough for a treatment that might have extended his life. One day, just before we left for a doctor’s appointment in Boston, I looked out the window and saw two cardinals under a bush. 

Now, to my husband, daughter and I, along with his brother and family who live next door, cardinals have always symbolized a continued connection to someone who has passed. That day, my husband was feeling awful and I was feeling bleak. It was the first time I realized how limited our remaining time might be. Seeing the birds helped.

The next day, I sat down and wrote a poem about the two cardinals. Poems can offer powerful solace and writing this one not only provided a release as I put words to my dread, but also allowed me to articulate some hope for how I might manage through what I suspected would soon be a very changed future. I worked on it for several weeks before sending it to a dear friend, a real poet, who not only knows words and birds, but in addition, knows me. She made a suggestion which I incorporated, and then I left the poem alone, although I never closed the window to the file on which it resided on my computer. Every time I opened another Word document, it was there.

It was still there in April, after a week of the grueling hoped-for treatment from which my husband did not rally. I kept it open as I watched him spiral down for the next two weeks at home, and while he spent two more (COVID-19 isolated) weeks in the hospital. In spite of best efforts, medical experts could only get him well enough to come home to hospice. The weekend he returned, after sitting all night by his side, I opened a text in which my poet friend included a poem she’d written in response to mine. It too, contained cardinals, and a fierce affirmation of lasting love. 

I can't tell you I didn’t bawl when I read it. I did. Gloppy, exhausted, messy tears. But her message touched my heart and made me understand that all my husband and I had together will forever remain in me. Knowing that, I could be strong enough for what was to come. For the rest of that week, while my sweet man struggled to take his last breaths, I read those two poems over and over, while, no word of a lie, a cardinal flew in and out of our holly bushes and one stared at our daughter from a hydrangea while she talked on the phone. I caught another with my cell phone as it chirped from a maple that has seeded itself between rocks. Over the course of that week, our nephew, my husband's sports-buddy who grew up next door but now lives a thousand miles away, had one tapping at his window in front of his home desk. He caught his with a cell phone, too. After Tim passed, his brother hung a cardinal flag in our backyard.

Since then, each time I hear a cardinal's song or see a shimmer of red streaking from tree-to-tree, it's as if the spirit of my dearest is trying to offer me ease. And it helps, some anyway--along with the time I take every day to read the two poems that follow. Our daughter framed them and gave to me on Mother’s Day.

Words and birds. Comfort, indeed.

Before the Appointment

Liza Carens Salerno

where deer
chewed the rhododendrons,
two cardinals pick at straw,
spirit-birds embodying
someone long gone,
a devotion that will not quit.
Speak your message to the East,
the mediums say.
Cardinals will take flight,
deliver your words.
So, I voice my plea
the same way I knock wood,
scratch a lottery ticket.
Then I remember.
Cardinals remain in one area,
mate for as long as they live.
Prayer travels on wind,
but on any given day
red flame may skim
from holly to pine,
light and love everlasting,
regardless of the circumstances.

Spirit Bird (for Liza)

Mary Clare Casey

Native Americans understand:
the stately hawk announces
impending forces of nature;
the owl, cloaked in darkness,
is a messenger of warning;
and Birdman, from the upperworld,
works with heavenly spirits
to aid us, its guidance,
whispering like a feather.

The Irish are no exception to beliefs.
Cuckoo call in the left ear, beware!
Flapping their wings, two herons foretell
a storm; and the crow, a banshee,
her high-pitched keel, a warning of death.

So—when you write to tell me
That your spirit bird has returned,
Cloaked in priestly red,
bringing you comfort—
when comfort seems flightless,
I want to tell you: cardinal is the Latin word
for hinge, a link between spirit and earth.
They mate for life. Sing songs
to one another. They are unity.

They are you and the one you love,
the one who sleeps alone, bound by tubes
and starless nights, dreaming he can fly
to your window to sing an ageless song
only your two hearts know.
I am telling you nothing you don’t already know:

That Love is a cardinal, perched
on the lowest branch of a rhododendron
outside your window, a messenger,
a spirit that travels
across miles of silent darkness
to nest with you. 

When have words offered you comfort?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those are both beautiful. I'm glad you found something of comfort through such a devastating time. Continued prayers for you. One day you will both fly together again.

Joanne said...

powerful, lovely poems. That's a good friend.
Thanks for sharing these times that you went through and can now reflect on, and the words that surround that time. Take care

Unknown said...

I just love your poem, Liza. I cried agin reading it because I know it comes from a place that is so deep.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Thank you for sharing these lovely poems, Liza. Please take care of yourself and know that you are in my prayers.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Beautiful poems. I'm glad they give you comfort. A friend's daughter who was a friend of my daughter committed suicide about a year ago. Since then, she periodically has started seeing eagles and is wondering if it's a way her daughter trying to connect with her.

Hope you are hanging in there. I think about you a lot. If I don't hear from you soon, I'll email you to check in.

mshatch said...

I love both poems. Sending love to you, too.

Jan Morrison said...

Thank you for the generous sharing of your heart. The poems from two real poets were like a call and response prayer. My father identified as a great blue heron. He has showed up in that form, since his death, at crucial times.
I am sending you much love, dear Liza.

Nick Wilford said...

Both poems are beautiful. I do think he's getting through to you through these wonderful birds. Very moving post.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Beautiful poems, beautiful words. I am glad you found comfort during such a hard time. Praying for you to continue to feel surrounded by love and hope each day.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'll never look at a cardinal the same way after reading your post today. I'll think of you each time.

Carol Kilgore said...

Both poems are beautiful and very moving. I've always believed the same about cardinals. I'll continue to keep you in my prayers.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Your post and the poems brought tears to my eyes. So painful and beautiful all at once. My prayers are with you.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Dear Liza - wonderful poems and I'm not surprised the cardinals were and are so important to you ... you were both brave and full of love for each other ... with many thoughts - take care - Hilary

Karen Baldwin said...

My heart, hugs, and condolences. Sharing your story is both courageous and an inspiration to others who have lost loved ones. The poems are beautiful. I very much believe in spirit animals and it's wonderful you understand them. The cardinals prepared you and you husband for the inevitable, and they will continue to give you peace.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm so very sorry you lost your husband. Both poems are so touching and beautiful. I've heard that about cardinals. We have a lot here in NC - it's the state bird even.

Connie said...

The poems are quite powerful. Hugs and love to you. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Truly beautiful poetry, Liza. My prayers are with you and your family at this sad time. God bless!

Liesbet said...

Wow, Liza! What a heartfelt and strong blog post. “Powerful”, as used by many commenters, is the correct word for your expression, emotion, and experience. I’m so sorry for your loss. But I’m so happy the cardinals have been and are there for you, through the lovely poems, in your memories, and in real life. That realization and connection is precious and priceless. And so is your dear poet friend. Be strong!

Nicki Elson said...

I'm so glad you have those beautiful words and the cardinals to comfort you throughout all of this. I hope each day brings you and your family more and more peace and that you can feel the warmth of your husband's smile upon you, always.

Tamara Narayan said...

Wow. Both poems are powerful in their own ways. My father has always loved birds and I grew up learning their names. This lead me to take that job in the birdhouse at the zoo. Like my parents, I started feeding birds at my home as well. Our cardinals are always the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave in the evening. I guess it's an adaptive trait to feed in the low light since their bright red makes them more visible to predators.

I'm so sorry to hear what happened to your husband.