Home > Poetry > Poem in Answer to a Birthday Card with Photograph of Cedar Waxwings
Published: Wed Oct 15 1975
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
AGNI 4 Journeys Spirituality Nature
Poem in Answer to a Birthday Card with Photograph of Cedar Waxwings

for Lee Nye

Waxwings flake the vault. Your calligraphic cry,
sharp against white sheets, blooms the rigid limbs.

Diagonals of going multiply in a storm of crosses
dark as the lank freeze coming on. They thaw

November skies enclosing me alive, loosen a flowing
older than my bones to stretch the shrunken sun.

It tingles down the spiny currents of departure
messages of never and of now. Blown by an overload

doves fly out of my mouth looking for water,
are swallowed up in snow. They teeter on the crown

of mountain ash to drink orange berries dry
and try their charcoal wings. Your name hangs near

in a breath of birds, frees the heaven around it,
sharpens by definition the cutting edge of time.

Singular in the void, you memorize my loss. Small
winged thorns cling to your signature to lift you

out of bounds. The season mourns. Behind
arrested images, others flock: the gesturing hand

with its severed thumb, wide-angle eyes, a hawk.
My name a prey to cold blue flourishes in air,

the messages go numb. Your lean pulse trips the switch.
Thin years fly halfmast songs. In dreams I keep

rolling them on my tongue, hot lines
to hold off sleep. Wind sucks down the gorge

blizzards of darkening birds. How can they fly
so airy and fierce, fed on ruin all around?

Twenty years behind me an Indian tracks
the forest of lost cries. A pitted chief surveys

the crippled scene, stalks my greenest lies
with slim reminders of a civil tomahawk.

I have no years to hide, must carve my name
on those demented trunks. Along the lighted branch

small bodies flicker out together. Lovers kiss and die.
Come, hold your featherweight to a nest that needs it,

emptier than sky. Comfort the cold smoke
filing past and drift the floating

ash aloft like birds. Too late to stake
my body to the fire I raise these tribal chants

to the curve of a scalped moon and cool
my fevers rolling in the snow.

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Translated from the Spanish by Amy Thomas
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Madeline Defrees is the author of numerous books of poetry, most recently Spectral Waves (Copper Canyon Press, 2006) and Possible Sybils: New Poems (Lynx House Press, 2006). She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She currently lives in Seattle. (updated 6/2010)

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