The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday and Backyard Wildlife

A Story
By Philip Levine

Everyone loves a story. Let's begin with a house.
We can fill it with careful rooms and fill the rooms
with things—tables, chairs, cupboards, drawers
closed to hide tiny beds where children once slept
or big drawers that yawn open to reveal
precisely folded garments washed half to death,
unsoiled, stale, and waiting to be worn out.
There must be a kitchen, and the kitchen
must have a stove, perhaps a big iron one
with a fat black pipe that vanishes into the ceiling
to reach the sky and exhale its smells and collusions.
This was the center of whatever family life
was here, this and the sink gone yellow
around the drain where the water, dirty or pure,
ran off with no explanation, somehow like the point
of this, the story we promised and may yet deliver.
Make no mistake, a family was here. You see
the path worn into the linoleum where the wood,
gray and certainly pine, shows through.
Father stood there in the middle of his life
to call to the heavens he imagined above the roof
must surely be listening. When no one answered
you can see where his heel came down again
and again, even though he'd been taught
never to demand. Not that life was especially cruel;
they had well water they pumped at first,
a stove that gave heat, a mother who stood
at the sink at all hours and gazed longingly
to where the woods once held the voices
of small bears—themselves a family—and the songs
of birds long fled once the deep woods surrendered
one tree at a time after the workmen arrived
with jugs of hot coffee. The worn spot on the sill
is where Mother rested her head when no one saw,
those two stained ridges were handholds
she relied on; they never let her down.
Where is she now? You think you have a right
to know everything? The children tiny enough
to inhabit cupboards, large enough to have rooms
of their own and to abandon them, the father
with his right hand raised against the sky?
If those questions are too personal, then tell us,
where are the woods? They had to have been
because the continent was clothed in trees.
We all read that in school and knew it to be true.
Yet all we see are houses, rows and rows
of houses as far as sight, and where sight vanishes
into nothing, into the new world no one has seen,
there has to be more than dust, wind-borne particles
of burning earth, the earth we lost, and nothing else.


The baby bird whom Adam rescued from the road nearly two months ago is free! We let him out of the cage on our deck this morning, thinking that, as he does at Rose's, he would stay on top of the cage, but he took off for the tree above the deck, then climbed onto the roof. I kept the cage open for him and kept food in it all day, but though he peered over a few times, he wouldn't come down. Rose came over and called to him in case he was scared or wanted to be fed, but he didn't come down even for her. Eventually we lost track of him -- I don't know if he flew off the roof or just didn't stick his head over for us. We're leaving his cage open on the deck just in case he gets scared or hungry and doesn't know where else to go, but if he didn't come for Rose, whose hair and shoulder have been his home base for the past few weeks, then I think he's taken off for good. While out checking on the birdie, I took photos of several other animals in the area:

Here is one of the last photos taken by Adam of the baby bird, sitting on top of his cage with the house in the background.

This bird came to check out the activity (and our bird feeder).

He did not mind walking sideways along our roof.

This chipmunk lives under Rose's house. She leaves a bit of cat kibble out for him since he likes to come steal her cat's dinner.

And, of course, we have many squirrels all around the neighborhood.

Occasionally they pretend that they are nervous around people and may race up a tree...

...but most of them will lounge shamelessly on our sidewalks, porches, decks, bird feeders, etc.

And since they are adorable, we encourage this.

In the evening we went with my parents to break the fast -- though none of the six of us were fasting -- at the home of a friend of my mother's, where another friend was hosting the meal, though everyone who came brought food (Paul made veggie kugel, my mother made a blintz souffle, and there were quiches and bagels and spreads and cheese and fruit and noodle kugel and brownies and cheesecake and I don't want to remember what else because it will just remind me how much I ate)! Everything was delicious and I had a really nice time catching up with the kids of my parents' friends, most of whom I've known since I was a young child. The younger son of the woman who was hosting was there with his wife and baby, whom I've never met since it's usually his older brother who comes down, and all three children of my mother's friend for whom I was an aide in high school when she team-taught English with my favorite teacher (her husband is one of my father's oldest friends from summer camp). Conversation ranged from politics to colleges to Smallville's tenth season.


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