The birds

He has been known to drop the groceries on the front sidewalk,
with the doors of the car open, and run to the back yard to listen
to chickadees.

His wife will find him out back, sitting on the decrepit picnic table,
watching and listening to these birds as they play in the apple tree.

Waxwings, siskins, robins, warblers, and sparrows. They all seem
to come to this yard, like they know they have a sympathetic ear.

His wife will think–He does not care that the ice cream is melting
on the front sidewalk. He doesn’t care that the cats will get at the hamburger.
He does not care that the door is blocking the sidewalk. She says she
understands this wide-eyed Buddhist awe but it actually frightens her
a little.

In the midst of an argument with his wife, he’ll cock his head
toward a window, and hear only the sparrows in the front pine.

Or on a busy downtown street, with bus-car-people sound all around,
he’ll pick out a chickadee in an elm across the road.

He has been known to stop the lawnmower,
in order to listen to siskins. He will stop in mid-cut,
a swath of mowed grass down the right-hand side of the back yard,
and sit to listen, and to watch. The grass will remain half-mowed for a day
or two because he’ll think he’s seen a particular kind of sparrow
that’s not supposed to be in this region.

He has been known to run outside into the front yard,
in his underwear, spilling coffee down the front hallway,
for pine siskins. The neighbours have grown to understand
his passion for birds. He doesn’t care that they understand.

His wife thought he would grow up, grow out of this
quirk – this fascination with birds.

When they had a child, a baby girl, his wife thought—well,
that’s the end of the birds.
And it seemed to wane for a few years.

At 4:30 this morning, she found her husband and their four-year-old,
in the back yard, bundled in sweaters, with the quilt her mother made
wrapping them warm. They were sitting at the picnic table,
listening to the birds.