668: Lament

668: Lament

668: Lament


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Outside my window now there’s a crabapple tree just about to bloom. I give it a few weeks, maybe ten days until it is a full frenzy of color, almost unbearable in its beauty. I love that little tree. It’s where I hang the feeder, and put the bird bath. It's where we buried our cat Snow when she died a few years ago. All the action in the backyard centers around that tree.

Last spring, I decided to make a shade garden with many types of hostas and purple heucheras (coral bells) and a few caladiums. Right as I was doing this in the backyard I found a dead dove, just barely out of the egg. All around the other mourning doves were making their haunting noises and moving from tree branch to power line, and it felt like they wanted me to do something.

So I buried the newborn bird underneath one of the hostas I planted near the bird bath. The bird bath is popular with the doves, as is the seed on the ground. Afterwards it felt as if the birds and I had gone through something together. I know that may sound a little out there, but it felt like they knew I had done something respectful with their dead.

Now, there’s a whole family of mourning doves that have made our backyard their home and the thing is, I have no idea which two birds were the original pair and which birds were the fledglings, but they all love that spot. They visit the feeder and the bath all the time. And it feels like a metaphor for the cycle. One buried feathered thing, a few young feathered things, a few older feathered things all eating together, all making their music.

But still, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to figure out which one is the mother. Which one watched me the closest that day and which one will we lose next?

Today’s poem honors the cycle, not of seasons, but of life and death, and explores the idea that we are born with our death already inside of us. One of the reasons I love this poem is that it is about a real human mother, but it also feels like it’s speaking to Mother Earth.

by Barbara Jane Reyes

when the mother was eggs, blood, and salt
when the mother was bud, blossom, and fruit

when the mother was migraines, cysts, and sacs
when the mother’s lit firecracker in her arteries

when the mother was stone was bone cancer
flowering lung, liver, from flowering womb

when the breast branched into berry brambles
did she feel her heart chambers darkened

when the mother was a uterine entombment
when the mother was not goddess not golden

when the mother was not silken but sutured
serpentine stitches edging her sisters’ quilting

when her landscape withered, hot, and parched
when birds dispersed her burs (her diaspores)

when the mother lamented rivers, so dammed
her whole earth’s inertia shifted, axis tilted up

and all the water spilled, spilled and filled her
did she know her spirit was shedding her flesh

transfiguring into cool pinpricks of midnight
did the mother know she was already in ascent

"Lament" by Barbara Jane Reyes. Used by permission of the poet.