522: Across the Border

522: Across the Border

522: Across the Border


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown

One early spring, when I was living in New York City, I walked behind a  father and a young child on my way to the subway. The child was maybe  four or five and bundled up in a gray parka. She was in that phase of  constant questioning. She pointed to a pigeon and asked her father what  sort of bird it was. Her father, holding her hand, answered as if all he had done for his entire life was  answer questions. A pigeon, he said. She pointed at another bird and  asked again, and again he said, pigeon. And it went on and on like this all the way from Second Avenue to Park Avenue until she grew exhausted, defeated, and shouted.  “When am I ever going to see a real bird!”  

I laughed then, but I know how she feels. The pigeon is a real bird of  course! But it’s not the colorful parrot of South America or even the teal crested kingfisher one might glimpse by the river. It’s just a pigeon, an  ordinary gray-winged thing making its way through the streets like any  other animal trying to get by.  

Ever since that day, I try to remember to praise the pigeon. The daily bird.  Don’t get me wrong, I, too, want to see something spectacular. I am ready for  the world to open and all the magical forbidden delights to return. During this year, in particular, I have felt the strong tug of fantasy, escapism, the wish to live outside of this all-too-real reality. 

Today’s poem, Across the Border, by Sophie Jewett, speaks to that desire  to live beyond our human concerns to where everything is alive with magic and glow. Who doesn’t want to lift the gray veil and witness a bright and vibrant world? And still, I am reminded that even then, I’d want to come back here to this world, with all its flaws, and praise the real bird.  

Across the Border
by Sophie Jewett

            I have read somewhere that the birds of fairyland 
            are white as snow.—W. B. Yeats 

Where all the trees bear golden flowers, 
    And all the birds are white; 
Where fairy folk in dancing hours 
    Burn stars for candlelight; 

Where every wind and leaf can talk, 
    But no man understand 
Save one whose child-feet chanced to walk 
    Green paths of fairyland; 

I followed two swift silver wings; 
    I stalked a roving song; 
I startled shining, silent things; 
    I wandered all day long. 

But when it seemed the shadowy hours 
    Whispered of soft-foot night, 
I crept home to sweet common flowers, 
    Brown birds, and candlelight.