“The Perishable” by Jane Zwart

Jane Zwart


Today I saw a robin hit by a car. Its pink bib spooled upward
between asymmetrical wings. That was the worst of it.
It did not suffer after or fan itself on the ground.

Everyone knows about birds: their bones mobiles
of toothpicks and driftwood, every ligament an elastic
pinker and tighter than the rubber-bands boys wind
against the propellers of balsa-wood planes, and a bird is no less fragile.

Mostly, birds’ feet are not much different from the pipe-cleaner feet
on the fake sparrows and chickadees (too badly made to tell apart)
that an old relative of yours is sure to have purchased at a craft store
and perched, with arthritic fingers, in a ficus.

Birds have small brains; they eat stones.
Not that ornithology suggests that one leads to the other;
the gravel that birds keep in their gizzards crumbles worms
or at least seeds. Birds have their reasons: digestion and, I suspect,
a fondness for having the petty ballast to urge against ascent.

They tend to drop only the greasiest feathers, and we pick them up anyway
to twist by the waxy shaft as one would a parade favor,
to feel the silky, suety texture of the feather’s vane
until our fingers pull barbules apart. Then the thing’s fringes sunder.

Some months ago I heard a radio news report about bird flu
and a boy in Asia who kissed his dead pet duck.
Not more than a few days after someone caught him
with his mouth up against its bill, he and his sister died.

The reporter reading the story said that it was probably apocryphal.
But grief being a lozenge that sticks in the throat
and tastes like earth and does not melt, I think it was probably not.

from Rattle 29, Summer 2008

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