Yesterday, I passed our city cemetery, the unusually warm October afternoon alluring, though not fully obliging my daydream walk.
Near the edge of the property, a throng of birds roosts in bare treetop limbs, autumn stressing and stripping new convert leaves in a north-south pattern. The birds chatter; they interrupt; they ruckus. There is no song, only countermelodies.
The birds are priests. There is no other conclusion.
Minor indignity rises, then settles the canyons around my breastbone.
Why make noise here? I almost shout. Where the dead try to sleep.
I pass the tree, pass the fence, briefly keep stride with the neighboring elementary school. Silence pushes down reproach.
The birds are priests. There is no other conclusion. And perhaps they choose—there is no perhaps, I believe this now: they soberly choose this perch, a station between the stations of eternal rest and young life.
The birds see everything, hear everything. They plot their path and purpose, ferrying the secret wisdom of ghosts—good men and women who left to finish growing into their undivided hearts—across fence line into little, unwritten lives.
Into lives facing their first bully, their first crush, their first failure, their first swear, their first word problem where one train leaves Iowa City at 9 p.m. and the other train leaves South Bend around 10:30 and, God, what do we do with these passing lives?
God knows the number of trains in the Midwest, and God places consolations everywhere. An unmet neighbor strings lights through the branches of an elderly tree, rearranging corners I pass each night. Aglow again, the eager tree gives up its witness, pronounces something about the light growing in me.
An acquaintance raves over a jazz trio record from 1955 and, upon wandering into its first measures, greens and blues reveal their values, teach me what it means to be alive and still in color.
Another flock of birds crowns another tree, and it’s clear they laid hold of a Fleetwood Mac melody from some open window, somewhere else on the wind.
Another flock of birds crowns another tree, and it’s clear they laid hold of a Fleetwood Mac melody from some open window, somewhere else on the wind. They trill their song; I warm up from inside out against the autumn air. And I love you, I love you, I love you like never before.
No bird knows the mind of God. But they trace the flight patterns God ordains. No bird knows the mind of God. But they know what they hear.
A child stumbles, for the first and not the last time, over history’s awful rhymes. And the dearly departed sigh out Langston Hughes verses in reply. One of these little ones strains under millstone jewelry, the shame laid out for them with their school clothes. And the dead saints bid them breathe, beseech them to look up and listen.
The birds remind the buried of heaven, remind the children of flight and keep watch over them both—not with eyes but ears and resonators. One dimension of the world forever calls out to the other; through the birds, one sings the missing pieces in notes another can hear, then sing back.