808: Birds in Home Depot—December

808: Birds in Home Depot—December

808: Birds in Home Depot—December


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

For fifteen years, every Thursday of the fall semester I would fly from Burlington, Vermont to New York City and back, to teach a course at New York University. Clearly, I have spent my fair share of days in airport terminals, often heavily bored awaiting takeoff, headphones on, watching people find their way to their destinations.

What almost always startled me was the sight of a singular pigeon or sparrow flitting about the terminal ceiling. My concern for my avian brother knew no end. Was the bird lost? Disoriented by the crowds below? Rattled by the constant droning of gate agents? I said to myself: it must have gotten off course and separated from its flock, or it’s a loner, seeking a different kind of sanctuary, one with high-end clothing stores and six-piece Chicken McNuggets.

The irony of a small bird trapped in a cavernous airport was not lost on me. Here was the pinnacle triumph of humankind’s efforts to achieve flight, blemished by the entrapment of the very creature who served as its aerodynamic inspiration. Wasn’t it just like us humans to cause harm, to abandon our responsibility of protecting small species?

Then, eventually, I noticed something; the bird wasn’t at all bothered by its condition. Forgive this moment of pathetic fallacy. It seemed to carry some inherent spirit of endurance and adaptability, maybe even, will. In fact, it even began to chirp a song of, dare I say, persistence. I thought of Thomas Hardy’s poem “Darkling Thrush,” the songbird who in the dead of winter, “Had chosen thus to fling his soul / Upon the growing gloom”, spawned by “Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew.”

My little guy wasn’t trapped at all; he was bathing in the large water fountain, finding refuge in an artificial tree, foraging food in the many trash bins, and, for good measure, pooping on passengers, in short, a survivor and my sudden inspiration.

Today’s poem showcases birds who also “make do” in a different man-made artificial environment, the massive “big-box” store.

Birds in Home Depot—December
by Richard Maxson

They sing, staccato notes:
statements that could be,
queer tree, queer tree . . .

Sometimes I see them
brown dots on a brown beam.

No easy nest here,
the spruce branches broken,
straw sequestered tight in brooms
wrapped in cellophane,

except for the threadbare Fall
scarecrow, braced firmly
among the colored corn stalks
and baskets of stippled gourds.

I want them to see the irony
under the steel beams
where they hop and fly, searching—
the fragments of a home
imagined new, repaired, changed.

In the garden center, a sparrow
contemplates the crocus bulbs,
huddled on shelves, awaiting Spring,
under the canopy that lets
in the sky and cool air.

I’ve wandered these aisles,
like today with my scribbled list
unable to find a pin for a screen
door, a number four brass screw
for a fan, a summer breeze.

What does that weaver know,
I wonder, as he tugs at browned
lily leaves and with a torn fragment flies
out the wide opened doors.

“Birds in Home Depot — December” by Richard Maxson. Used by permission of the poet. Originally appeared in Earth Song: A Nature Poems Experience, editor Sara Barkat, T. S. Poetry Press © 2022.