comes for the elms which bring
the gold-flecked orioles to their branches.
Instead, he finds the cardinal, drop of blood
flitting through the leaves, dancing where
the light moves a hand as it breaks here,
breaks there, casts shadow against ashen bark.
In the city, birds break their necks on glass high-rises,
mistake reflections for trees.
A Swainson’s thrush! He crouches low,
watches its burnt-beige belly
and black-jelly eyes. He holds his breath.
He must uphold stillness or the congregation
in the trees will burst away.
Artificial light can dizzy migratory patterns,
confuse flocks as they center on brightness.
When he holds his breath like this,
the pain in his throat reminds him he’s alive.
He lets the air seep out, measured, slow, his lungs
a balloon weeping. He doesn’t notice
the eyes on him, the white policeman—
navy blue, shiny badge.
Somehow, birds survive, though we’ve cut down
their trees, paved over their landings.
He holds out his arms, unfolds
his hands to show the binoculars
are not a gun. Officer steps off, mumbles something
into the radio on his chest. Birder exhales,
packs up his bag, a long rivulet of sweat
winding down his neck.
Birds eat our crumbs, our refuse.
They dance their little feet in the gutters
stained by spit and oil.