Sorting &Wonder of Birds

Sorting &Wonder of Birds

You can also download “Sorting” as a PDF.


June 16, 2000—we heard the echo of a meadowlark.

Let go the meadowlark and the valley in which its song
repeated itself and the valley in which its song unfolded.

Let go the dream of such clear sound.

Let go the walks, dinners, drinks, talks, senses of beginnings, let go
the beginnings, we will never begin again.

Let go the still gray sky. It has propped us up long enough.

Let go the nights.

Let go the voice that answered me in earnest in all things I find
I can no longer imagine it.

Imagine the rents in the driveway cement from the rain that pooled
and stayed and the way the cement buckled wildly in the years that followed
and the years that followed in which no one came to the door.

You came to the door and said my name and the whole weathered mess
glowed beneath the afternoon’s hanging clouds and weeds
grew in blunt stalks from the cracks.

Who would you change for?

The maples change more in an hour of wind than we change.

The aspens shatter light I have felt the leaves in their wind-glittering
strangeness. Let go

the town and its dry river paths the white bellies of the swallows
under the bridge flashing in the last minutes of dusk and I knew I could not
continue as I had been nor did I sense a course.

Who are your friends.

What do you care for.

What would you give up if you could give up
anything. When were you afraid there is no extreme need that is not
warped by fear. What does the world

require of you have you loved the time you have spent here.
Was it because of the people with you. Or that the silence

was never silence it was always the fan’s white noise in the window
at night and below that the new rain on the grass
and below that the grass as it bends under the water
and night buried under the water and the town
at night under rain and grateful for rain in this dry season.


There and not there like the wind in the yard.

There and not there in a smile that is not
itself but a thought in a far country and a brush
of the shoulder that in a single minute means

everything. Everything you have said in support and questioned.
In support of love that unfolds where one least
imagines it for example a year of endings.

A white shirt. A shoelace a razor. A pacing in the hallways at night
like the steady lines of bicycles fanning across flat green fields.

The shadow of an airplane over the field or that shadow
as it ripples over a building through the thick windless
heat. Are you paying attention
to what passes through you.

Through you
I came to see a better life but cannot
account for why I have not always
lived it.

A polite vagueness in the Good bye! and Good luck!

Goodbye to the laughter I love I did not keep it close enough.

Goodbye to the mind that moves along walls and roads its un-
ceasing spirit I wish I were always in its path.

To the boys playing soccer at five in the leafy park goodbye
their gamesmanship goodbye
goodbye to the gravel they scattered the ground
they scuffed the houses they return to, may they always have homes.

Goodbye to the busses and the poppies that flew
past us behind bus-windows in deep red-orange-dotted-
smudges and the edgeless fields where you
walked when I wasn’t
there, with you, in your head,
where you walked, were you
alone, were there
fields, how alone
were you. How

alone can anyone
stand to be. Any one of us might be
tapped any one lead away when that day
comes will you be
ready. Will you be prepared for what you
have not said.

Will you know what you love.


To have been alone together is to have been
alone within an
illusion. Step into a dream
of life its tapwater and shoes its
coffee-cups paper-clips sheets the white light
that backs every curtain every room casually
shared every question will you help me with this I will help you.

Step into a life that is not
dreamed and try to say now if there are
remnants of illusion. Is what you say every day real.
Are the lesser estrangements
deeper and if so how much can you bear and if not
what will convince you.

Does the sparrow on the t.v. antenna convince you—it is there every day.

Every day the sun hits the red roofs of the village where you lived
and every evening the swifts dive through the crooked stone streets chasing
bugs we cannot see. The birds rose
level with our torsos on the terrace and whistled
their strong eerie whistle I heard it each morning a lone swift
veering past our bedroom window.

The rains rose and fell through the winter
and the spring rose and the beating summer
arrived. The birds arrived
each night and often we took the stairs
to the terrace after dinner to watch their black bodies
in hundreds rise and spike and dive, each in its own private
depth, sharp hap-
hazard wing-splitting
rolls. As if there were hundreds of separate skies.


So that nothing will ever again be for us what it was.

The long walk to the grocery store in noon-white
heat. The men standing immobile at boule, murmuring with the toss.

Constant church bells, the apple you set on the counter to eat,
the shake of a head saying no. Let go

the bistro the woman by the creek the disease.
Notes, letters, poems strung word-to-word.

Let go the young girl walking toward a building at the end of a long city-
sidewalk I see she is looking
toward someone there in the highest window her mother or a tutor
watching her child and neither one of them

needs to wave. Had I been able to read the signs, had you been able
to speak more clearly, had I
noticed, not
assumed, had you come to me
in understanding linking need to
need, had I
heard you, had you
spoken, I heard, as you
said the words, the harder
course, you
insisted, nor
have you always
lived it, persist, and cannot any longer
pass lightly over
anything. You came to me
in understanding and brought with you the need of a whole life,

having for months looked elsewhere, the streets of the town after midnight,
a nullity in each livingroom’s blue t.v., letters
to others, drought
in the mind drought in the neighborhood
grass. Certain
you would always be there.
Certain you would follow. The night’s

hours in talk and the paths our thoughts took
together. The dust-choked house and its un-utterable shag carpet
or the blue house and all the passing cars stranded in its
snowbanks the bitter arguments sweet reprieves the funny
Midwestern meals you cooked the mountain ash years without cigarettes
heaps of sweaters dishes the fire
in the kitchen the purple
kitchen. The absurd red car your mother gave us,
the books we wrote, sentences we took out,
pencil in the margins your shrinking
penmanship new shoes your smile the one that
seizes at what’s
real. The laundry the prosody. The refusals
the constant generosities every desperate apology.
You have to hold it in mind all at once.
You have to need it enough.


If I let go what will be left. Too hard
to sort each sorrow from each joy

and why, instead of answering, we passed into silence.
Clear, deep green, like a lake we’ve never been to

and stood at its blue edge-grass and felt nothing, like sunlight,
as it moved across our faces, slow
warmth, amber-

white, and when it passed we didn’t
know. But we stayed.

You can also download “Wonder of Birds” as a PDF.


If I could address your accusation that I lie.

If it is possible
to touch the hour, the burr, that whole up-
ended half-decade we spent wondering about each other—
you slumped on your kitchen floor arms crossed arguments
stockpiled. Will we thieve or be brave?

Today, mid-February where the wind is full of snow
that will not fall, brown leaves
curled against the blanched grass,
I suspect there are no gardens in you.
You suspect I am brimming with vast shadows,
the way the mud and sky are brimming with snow.

Winds chafe the maples and somewhere
an animal huddles under woodland trash.

Will it be now, or later?
Will it be now?

. . . . .

When the diagnosis came he said, in his head,
anything to be free from harm.

I too said anything.

The lesions hooked down, flew into the nerves,
numbing the left hand and left foot,
blood-threads scorched with orchids, skulls,
white forest fires, ramshackle speculations, your future
fisted and refisted in the neurologists’s dusky
speech. You will never be alone.
You will walk the hallways in radiator heat and summer heat,
and the blackboards will be coated with your tiny letters
and the portals of minds will open and close, open and close.
Waterlogged, the cemetery by the highway
sinks further into itself as the violet dirt
darkens. Everything
has changed. The way,
from a tree, a whole curve of birds
issues from one startled call.

. . . . .

We understood we were afraid.
I understood the promise I made in that moment
was binding.
You felt for a moment I was with you—
I was with you.

It stayed with me in the lamp dusk, blue trees and fields,
months of solitude, an occasional gift we exchanged,
the plans you made without hope.

I would give you my hands in the gray blur
of this mid-winter mid-afternoon hour,
mud wicking from cement and wet weeds,
a broom to brush the pooled
sidewalk-ice away.

Something nearby moves just
beyond us. The trees raw from wind
as shadows of birds fly out.

. . . . .

Are you disenthralled?
Avert your eyes if you can.
Have a drink have a smoke.
Spend a month on a kitchen floor—
Stop reading the paper.
You can have a drink—
You can go buy a drink.
Slip outside and smoke.
Find someone and lean back.
Recede, withdraw—
Withdraw, don’t be afraid—
But I haven’t read everything about suicide bombers already
I don’t know how many citizens are being killed each day

How many
How many are ours

. . . . .

I didn’t think the world desired us
or could find our bodies beautiful.
I never thought that when winter ends in February
the seasons might be lying.

What can move from your throat
now that some violence has
pulled us apart?

Was it mine?

Listen, when a person throws herself backwards
off a ledge in a small town in the mountains,
late gold-warm brick, a few scraps of weeds,
not high enough to really hurt, she is asking.

If he rushes to catch her out of gratitude,
guilt, self-loathing, obligation,
in effect he lets her fall.

. . . . .

Will it be now, or later?
Will it be now?
Will the moon burn over the tree-line
Will the arteries clutch
Will the brain in its shock-worn pockets smooth itself down
Being small, as we are, and negligible
Scarcely entitled to a name, such as beloved
Not known to exist except as beloved
As you were, uncertain now what you are
Will the brick houses withstand the rest of winter
Will the wood houses
Will the men be warm enough at night
The women
Will each find his way to another, and be housed, and be free from harm
Will the man who sleeps under the plastic tarp under the bridge be free from harm
The families in the trailers
Will the bills ever ease
Will the tensions ease, slacken, and come to seem unimportant
Will you ever come to seem unimportant
Uncertain now who you are—
And when will this trance end?
Shapes night-wheeling in the breeze
Spurs of bone a patch of trees
Wind-washed and moon-fretted
A night composed of nothing
A herd of deer browsing on lichen
Train-horn pulling through the dark
Killed in the wind farms
Tangled in the cell phone towers
The birds
The birds
The seed-heads loosening
The seed-heads loosening in bright-and-dull dawn.

. . . . .

Historically, all governments lie to their peoples
Historically: bloodshed for trust

The way a person lies is different
from the way a government lies.
Avert your eyes if you can.

You said it’s MY DISEASE.
And that is true.
As my disguises were true.
Private fears my sense that you might not forgive.

A people lie because they believe they can control outcomes.
They believe they know the way.

Today, am I in danger?
To what are you beholden?
By what enthralled?

A war, a nation, oxblood and sleep kits.
If you understand, tell me

When I wake up, I understand what slaughter will take place
today in our name.

What should my response be
Who am I responsible for
What falsehoods count

And what men at this hour do not speak?
What women at this hour cannot speak?

. . . . .

Wind beneath the bridge, between the cemetery stones,
soundless. Last night’s rain
is shaking from the leaves. Light
pours down—

What is it that moves in such weather-
smooth winds that the hills themselves soften?
The pleats of snow in the ridges below the peaks
are cold. Depthless
beauty. I have not been able to say
I trust the world.

The war is with us each morning
With us when we climb into beds

When I wake up I am responsible
When I wake up alone, I am forced to see

Over the ossified earth the waters are rising
I avert my eyes

Each of us who has a home—
we darken

And the wonder of birds is that they still rise
The wonder of birds

I believe in what is gentle in us, despite what we have done
I believe I can praise everything I am not permitted to become

I believe there is no love in bluntness
but in the struggle toward attention
which is light

So that we see blades of grasses fog torn in the reeds
Raccoons dropping in pairs from the trees
And the burdens of others
Boys by the building hanging around without shoes
The stargray rivers
Clock-note of coalescent ice
From a girl, a simple hi
Nightfall sweeps around the globe
Rain-films of oil on asphalt
Crocus-bundles parking garages tickets plastic bags
You live despite disease
You thrive in understanding
Highways and overpasses
A crowded bus-stop someone shouting a finch
The supple swing of its voice laid over the air
As if we had closed our lips and eyes and felt
The cool stone inside us
Threnody of graphite and gold
Men exploding themselves in the streets
Women exploding themselves
Look—a bird is filling with light
Bracelets and mica bits
Greetings on the streets
I will help you although I do not know you
The raft of our efforts
Buoys in the bay
The quintral flowers a few hour-boxed visitors
Senior citizens centers the impoverished schools traffic signs
That man hasn’t eaten for days
Tonic and deadlock
Like the sun suspended in amber and flecked
With burnt wings, ancient civilizations of insects trapped in
Cold floating stone
Blotches of light on my hands here where I sense you
A few cottonwoods snowing down on the weeds
Wire fences invisible fences white clapboard steel gates
The raw sweep of the moon
And the water of looking
The ribs of a child an animal’s sudden private cry
Tides pouring back
Trade-worn day-worn worn down by desires
And feel the winds move over the ruinous fields
Pesticides dispossession
A few blooms unnaturally early
Spring in February—

A death closes in. Whose is it?

We need each other more.






Both of these poems are part of Joanna Klink’s new book, Raptus (Penguin).


Joanna Klink taught in the MFA program at the University of Montana for seven years. Her poems have appeared in Chicago Review, Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, and other journals. A recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, she is the author of They Are Sleeping (University of Georgia Press, 2000) and Circadian (Penguin, 2007).  She is teaching at Harvard University.

“Wonder of Birds” will be printed as a chapbook by hand held editions.


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