Four Calling Birds

Joseph O’Brien


The renditions of reminiscence vary to the degree
That the mind does not mind its own migratory encasement
In wan December grey. Thoughtful birds succeed effortlessly
When all days require faithful acts of constant discernment.

The leftover robin, though, plays off your own reality
All along, all the time letting you think up a good canard
Of collusion: the scene we see, its folksome frivolity,
Albeit withal, is only a plastic-coated Christmas card.


The trees wink in their crotches
The last of the horizon’s pink,

Diffusing sunsets in the fantails
Of blackbirds roosting there.

Their hard, rusted songs
Both gather up and dispel

The gloomy phantasms of
What never got done today,

Would never get done anyway
While the heavy world sleeps

Under the bittersweet duress
Of diurnal abridgement.

Daylight’s foreshortened hours
Allow buildings to stretch

Their shadows across the city,
Feathers brushing at tombstones.

This is no time to beckon with
Carols. Only a dirge fits the bill:

Semblance of turned faces;
Similitude of wrenched hearts;

These, the qualities of winter,
Are taking wing as we wait for dusk.


St. John’s wings glowed immortal
St. Luke doctored his to death
St. Matthew taxed his by the word
St. Mark carried his all the way to Rome

But you have got to hand it to them—
As writers, they sacrificed everything for
Their work, letting God take
Their holiest ideas to flesh them out.


Winter was on the way and my apartment was insulated against
The seasons. The bed was too hot for sleep, so looking up, I formed
Words on the ceiling, a know-nothing nomenclature of song:
What are cradled creases? Are they created to carry creased cradles?
It’s all there, meaning, in the cave scene which civilized man’s love.

Not long after midnight, a paper-white pigeon perched on the fire-escape,
And began to sing a chill stream of grief through my window,
Challenging a stormy city of syllables with its quieter nonsense,
My tangle of lonely noise with its soft collision of light and sound.
I sought truth, though, stopping only long enough to catch up again:

A cradled crease in this baby’s face
Could be love’s way of making sense
While a creased cradle in the ground
Could be old death’s final silence…

And between love and silence, the song itself seems light enough to bear.
But listen to the darkness here. It’s an echo swallowing itself up;
A broadcast of coins revolving in on their own orbits across
A sanctuary floor; the night’s last bells wobbling the twelfth chime
With the dull richness of sadness; a pigeon calling out a moment later.