the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Madeleine Mysko

Nest of the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

— for Jim Peters

We've heard the sweet-sweet-chew-chew
of the bunting, the drink-your-tea
of the towhee. We've seen the goldfinch,

glittering on the fly, trilling a rising-fall,
and the chimney swift (flying cigar).
                                                        Only an hour after dawn and already,

drunk on the very names — waxwing, kingbird,
chipping sparrow, chat, white-eyed vireo
(bramble-lover) — I've stumbled to attention

a dozen times at our guide's raised hand.
                  Suddenly, on the road through the woods,
Beautiful, he says, and fixes his scope

on branches overhead. We make a ragged
queue. There is time for each of us to step up
and look: nest of the blue-gray gnatcatcher.
A tiny cup of horse-hair and plant down,
stitched with spider web, he tells us, inlaid
with bits of lichen. A perfect camouflage,

so exactly like the stubs on the branch that
the wonder is his having spied it at all.
Nest of the blue-gray gnatcatcher:

a small, stunning grief to accompany the joy
of seeing what I didn't know enough to
look for, and may not ever see again



On the answering machine, her voice —
from the faraway city — is faint, not
with the distance but with the hurt.
She says she painted all afternoon, but
the canvas is gone — stolen,
while she was sleeping on the train.
It was good too, she says. A good start.

I feel the thrumming train,
the heat, the daylight lingering heavily
on the skyline beyond the window, the tiredness
of travel, the tiredness after good work.
I see how it must have happened:
her head nodding, and the shadow moving
toward her, down the aisle, and then away.

A thing of beauty, the poet says, will never
pass into nothingness. Beautiful: that painting
propped beside her, on the train, in the faraway city.
Beautiful still, in the hands of the thief.



While packing up the things he left behind,
I trip and bang my thigh. Later, moving on,
I study how at first the tissues throb —

as though some foreign object's stuck in there —
when actually the body's urgent job
is now to take back in what once it bled.

Take back it does, in time. Beneath the skin,
alarm gives way to work. The colors spread:
purple, blue, yellow, then almost green.

An oddly heartening phenomenon:
how some things slowly heal by breaking down.



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