966: Love Poem, with Birds

966: Love Poem, with Birds

966: Love Poem, with Birds


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Lately, all my free time has gone to digitizing CDs and cassettes. Last month, I discovered several shoe boxes of mixtapes from my young adulthood — the music I blasted in my first apartment, (Illmatic) or while on the subway going to work, (Remain in Light), songs that were gifted by a romantic partner (“Fade Into You,”) and DJ friends (Towa Tei’s “Last Century Modern.”)

Who knows why I’ve carried these boxes across the continent several times over? But, I am happy I held on to these relics. The pleasures they give are affecting, even if I’m weighed down by nostalgia.

To the concern of my family, my efforts to preserve ancient media looks like obsession, whose Latin root “obsidium” fittingly means “siege,” “blockade.” I’m late to the dinner table. I put off meeting up with friends for ice-cream, my favorite. I ignore a midday doorbell which turns out to be a scheduled plumber. When I emerge out of my cave, I look bedraggled. Normally, they respect and admire my hobbies and favorite pastimes. But sometimes, my isolation is concerning… and gets to the point of complaint. Hello, we’re here. Did you forget us?

I get it; the focus I put into preserving the sounds that have informed my palimpsest of feelings is the kind of attention they want from me. While the inching of time demolishes our belief that all will remain the same, my love for them is constant and unerring. But sometimes preoccupations are, well, all-consuming — and get in the way of that fact.

Today’s poem gives voice to the intimidating feeling of competing with a partner’s personal passion. However begrudgingly we come around to their idiosyncratic awarenesses, such an intense engagement is exactly what attracts us in the end.

Love Poem, with Birds
by Barbara Kingsolver

They are your other flame. Your world
begins and ends with the dawn chorus,
a plaint of saw-whet owl, and in between,
the seven different neotropical warblers
you will see on your walk to the mailbox.
It takes a while. I know now not to worry.

Once I resented your wandering eye that 
flew away mid-sentence, chasing any raft
of swallows. I knew, as we sat on the porch 
unwinding the cares of our days, you were 
listening to me through a fine mesh of oriole,
towhee, flycatcher. I said it was like kissing
through a screen door: You’re not all here.

But who could be more present than a man
with the patience of sycamores, showing me
the hummingbird’s nest you’ve spied so high 
in a tree, my mortal eye can barely make out 
the lichen-dabbed knot on an elbow of branch.
You will know the day her nestlings leave it.

The wonder is that such an eye, that lets not
even the smallest sparrow fall from notice,
beholds me also. That I might walk the currents
of our days with red and golden feathers
in my hair, my plain tongue laced with music.
That we, the birds and I, may be text and
illumination in your book of common prayer.

"Love Poem, with Birds" from HOW TO FLY (IN TEN THOUSAND EASY LESSONS) by Barbara Kingsolver, copyright © 2020 by Barbar Kingsolver. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.