I expect to see her lingering at the rail
over dozens—house sparrows and wrens
she tears pieces of bread for,
the obvious pleasure she finds in them.
I try not to intrude from my back door.
Perhaps she remembers her mother.
Or her sons, shot the same night in May.
When St. Francis first called on the birds,
it’s true they had already preached for him.
Just as some dart away with the last,
best pieces of bread, one always arrives
late on the scene, another city besieged,
children massing on the roads.
Maybe Francis hesitated over the news,
whole countries in flight. But consider
the nests he made. They are like words
shaped by the body which inhabits them,
plaited with grass and twigs, with twine,
blue ribbon, with shreds of paper.
They are meant to be temporary shelter,
moment by moment a possible refuge,
like things Christine says to the birds.
From here it’s only her voice I make out.
Hadn’t the birds urged Francis to wander?
Little sisters, he’s said to have called them,
they were not captive, feckless, or poor,
and if we find a mottled, pried open shell
clinging to the duff, this is a marvel—
that sundered halfness, that necessary
emptiness where a bird unraveled,
all beak, talons, and skin. I drop my eyes.
Hadn’t birds taught him poverty of spirit?
Live exposed to winter gusts, yet sing
invisibly in a sun-filled thicket at morning.
Birds never dwell in nests, a lightweight
work, except us, seeking to hold a place
within for what uses and abandons us.
But Christine gives the birds
their own time to browse the grass—
a lesson I want to take in here, leaving
room for other voices. Her sons
may arrive each day at that early hour.
As she feeds them again, not too close,
they share a simple, brief, and urgent joy.