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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?