I see you everywhere I look this spring,
In the erect bone ivory-caked stamens of the tulips
Come back now three seasons,
Deep purple and buttercup yellow.
In the twittering of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird,
Six or sixteen of them, it is impossible to tell,
Zipping back and forth in territorial chase.
And of course, I see you in my father’s sister,
Lowered, last week,
In all her ninety-three years,
In a coffin, into the ground.
How many sit, will sit, want to sit
As I hear them,
Amongst tall grasses
Here and there, there and here,
On ladder-back chairs,
Discussing their lives with an audience of those who have not yet joined them?
Fi-bree, fi-bree, fi-bree,
Seeeriddip, seebrrr, seeeriddip, seebree
The dead of humans, dead humans, death
In its wild simplicity
Is something else to birds
Who do not construct illusionary edifices to immortality.
This May, an angelic return, the gray-brown Eastern Phoebe
Once again in the porch rafters.
Perhaps last year’s bird, daughter of last year’s nesting phoebe
Or a granddaughter of the phoebe before her,
Sallying down or out to catch insects mid-air
From the perch of the laundry line,
Tail dipping and bobbing as she and husband take turns.
I like to think they go back three hundred years,
Eons of flycatchers here on this hill
Building anew what northern winter winds destroy. Year after year,
Over and over again, preparing intricate nests
On playhouse, sugarhouse, outhouse, lodge, teepee,
On sugar maples, oaks, yellow birches,
Which all stood, over time, where this house now stands.
Still, I am counting the dead and the days until
The black flies go back from whence they came,
Plump with deer blood, until
For the tyrant flycatchers’ hatchlings
Once again fill the summer eve,
And May becomes June.
© Susan Gesmer, Mayflies: Another Conversation With Death