Jennifer K. Sweeney

(1973 / Tolland / United States)

Call and Response


There are mnemonics for remembering bird calls.
Listen to my evening sing-ing-ing-ing croons the vesper sparrow,
But-I-DO-love you pleads the Eastern meadowlark
or the Inca dove's bleak no-hope.
That fall, an American goldfinch frequented our trumpet tree
with its airy Po-ta-to chip! and I thought
how our bodies exude their own churling mantras:
in the past, I-am-no-good
then, please-just-breathe just-breathe.
As the days wound back to darkness,
a new chant became clear,
red-tailed vireo that hums through Northern woods
Here-I-am Where-are-you?
weaving a nest of bark strips, pine, lichen
and never is the song more true
than when she lays her eggs, and cowbirds prey
leaving the mother to mourn the disappeared
work of her body in a solo
of call and response. Each month
our love offered up its question to the world.
Here-I-am Where-are-you?
as the ovums rose and disintegrated silently.
We walked along scrolls of ocean,
crows jagging the cliffs like elaborate shadows
and felt the specific pain of Not-yet Not-yet.

Submitted: Monday, August 25, 2014

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