The Woman Who Talked with Birds

Ordinary, graying hair, wispy
in the wind now as she worked
mulch between blueberries
hands going crooked slender
piano fingers fighting arthritis
legs slower after a couple of breaks
when she fell in the snow burning
brush and found herself watching
a hawk circling high above her

Since she was a girl she could
tell each bird by silhouette
learned from the yellowing field guide
bound in cello tape a gift
from her father when she had
rheumatic fever and they found
the heart murmur, so many days
of stillness then in which to study

birds on fences and wires, barns
each one black as night different
only in the shape of head
or slant of back the angle of a wing
the length of a leg, the tilt of talon
memorized bodies against
a paper sky until she could say them
back to him, owned them forever

once outside she began to connect
voices to those dark shapes and
as was her nature talked back
from her solitude: robin, thrush
heron, hawk, blackbird, dove

sought out dense thickets until
she could spy the tiny finches
greeted mockingbirds like sisters
scolded bossy jays knew when
cardinals changed from winter to
spring songs of courtship

devoured Porter and Thoreau
pored over Aldo Leopold while
she grabbed a sandwich on the trail
lived to chat with Canadas’ on the pond
saluted first killdeer screaming up
from the south and whispered to
bluebirds beneath their nest boxes

never considered her conversations
one-sided but rather a gift born
of some innate understanding
with birds that she could not explain
only knew that although unable to fly
she was uplifted on each wing.