The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday and Baby Bird

By Alicia Suskin Ostriker

—for Elizabeth Bishop

Tuwee, calls a bird near the house,
Tuwee, cries another, downhill in the woods.
No wind, early September, beeches and pines,

Sumac aflame, tuwee, tuwee, a question and a faint
But definite response, tuwee, tuwee, as if engaged
In a conversation expected to continue all afternoon,

Where is?—I'm here?—an upward inflection in
Query and in response, a genetic libretto rehearsed
Tens of thousands of years beginning to leave its indelible trace,

Clawprint of language, ritual, dense winged seed,
Or as someone were slowly buttoning a shirt.
I am happy to lie in the grass and listen, as if at the dawn of reason,

To the clear communal command
That is flinging creaturely will into existence,
Designing itself to desire survival,

Liberty, companionship,
Then the bird near me, my bird, stops inquiring, while the other
Off in the woods continues calling faintly, but with that upward

Inflection, I'm here, I'm here,
I'm here, here, the call opens a path through boughs still clothed
By foliage, until it sounds like entreaty, like anxiety, like life

Imitating the pivotal move of Whitman's "Out of the Cradle,"
Where the lovebird's futile song to its absent mate teaches the child
Death—which the ocean also whispers—

Death, death, death it softly whispers,
Like an old crone bending aside over a cradle, Whitman says,
Or the like the teapot in Elizabeth Bishop's grandmother's kitchen,

Here at one end of the chain of being,
That whistles a song of presence and departure,
Creating comfort but also calling for tears.


Adam went out to play tennis with my father on Tuesday morning, after which my father invited all of us out to lunch -- Daniel voted for Hamburger Hamlet, which in addition to beef has veggie patties (Adam had a veggie Caliente Burger) and very good salads (mine had goat cheese, cranberries, candied walnuts and cashews). After we ate, we stopped at the mall so my father could bring his practically-new phone back to AT&T because it wasn't working; they gave him some crap about this being his own fault and he wound up having to go to another AT&T store to exchange it, which left me very unimpressed with AT&T's customer service given how expensive they are compared to T-Mobile, which has always treated me very well. While he was there, I took the kids out for ice cream (Thing One) and frozen yogurt with mochi (Thing Two). Then my father drove us home, and as we turned into our development, Adam spotted a baby bird at the edge of the road.

The rest of my day was all about this poor tiny bird, which had a fuzzy head and flimsy wings that clearly weren't ready to fly. We went to move the bird out of the street, putting him at first on the grass beside the road since we couldn't spot a nest within reach, and then, when he hopped into the road again, further away from the curb. I called the Humane Society since I couldn't get the wildlife rehabilitation center on the phone, and they suggested leaving the bird there to see if the parents appeared, which we did. A pair of adult birds in the trees nearby flew around and landed near the baby a couple of times, but the baby kept hopping into the street, and we knew that sooner or later it was going to be hit by a car if it wasn't moved deeper into the woods. So Adam put it on the other side of the wall at the entrance to the development, hoping the adult birds were watching. They were still in the trees and flying down behind the wall, so we figured they knew the baby was there, and did what the Humane Society had suggested: we left them alone.

An hour and a half later, before dinner, we went back to check on the bird. I don't know whether the parents couldn't find it, whether they didn't like the thick leaves covering the ground where we'd put the baby, or whether they had a nest of other fledglings to care for, but the baby had not moved since we had placed it there; its breathing was shallow and it had ants crawling on it. Adam picked it up and it was nearly limp, not resisting as it had when he moved it off the road earlier. I called the Humane Society again and again they suggested leaving it for its parents to care for, but we didn't see or hear the parents anywhere. At that point an intervention seemed called for, so we went to visit a neighbor who used to be a park ranger. She put the bird in a blanket on a cat bed, which revived it somewhat; then she mimicked a bird call and it opened its mouth for her, at which point she gave it three medicine droppers full of bird Gatorade, which she said was a huge amount for such a tiny bird to demand.

We had all concluded that we couldn't leave the bird on the ground overnight and hope its parents could care for it. The neighbor, Rose, has a backyard full of bird feeders and has nursed several other local babies who still hang out in the trees around her house, plus a couple of squirrels and feral cats. She's a passionate animal lover and we know she will stay up all night if necessary to take care of this bird. So while I'm not positive we did the right thing from the start, I am sure that the bird is safer in her care than it would have been in the street or left in the woods. Adam and I collected some leaves and grass to make a nest for him in the box we used to carry him to Rose's house, and we have offered to help find worms for Rose to smush up to add to his birdie Gatorade tomorrow now that he's no longer dehydrated. She said sometimes they'll eat very mushy oatmeal, too, which I would prefer to make for him than worm stew.

Here is the baby bird after we brought him to Rose.

After Adam first spotted him in the road, we put him in the grass nearby.

He hopped into the mulch near the development entrance, then back into the road.

Adam tried moving him deeper into the woods to keep him from hopping into traffic.

I'm pretty sure this is one of the parents; this bird was jumping in the branches of a nearby tree, though it rarely landed on the ground. (Sorry these photos are so blurry; we were trying to keep our distance from the birds.)

Rose fed the bird from a medicine dropper.

It opened its mouth and peeped for her right away when she made chirping noises for it, then kept peeping and looking for more.

Adam was very relieved.

Eventually we moved the bird into this nest box, where it promptly burrowed into the leaves and fell asleep.

We had chili dogs for dinner, since that was quick and easy. Evening TV was Warehouse 13. I can't really comment on the Eureka crossover aspect since I've never seen that show (I like Claudia's chemistry with Fargo, but since he has his own show I assume I shouldn't wish for them as a couple), but I can say that any episode of any show with Rene Auberjonois gets a thumbs up from me.

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