I’ve come to love the power lines
crisscrossing the alley behind my house.
Birds pause here, between their quests
for food and water, to rest
until returning to nest in palm trees
across the alley, down the block,
across the street, and to places
that, no matter how I fix my gaze,
I can’t quite know, I can’t quite find.
To identify the bird singing from the powerlines,
I pull Birds of America from its spot atop the bookshelf.
Remember, friend, when you gave this book to me? Before
your move to Texas? Or, was it after the returning
to California? Your grandmother’s book
you said, who also loved to name the birds.
How I grieved when you moved half-way across
the country with your family, for your husband’s
better job. I boarded the plane with the baby,
barely three-months old, while you wrangled
the other children up the ramp.
It was December. Remember how we cried?
The new year began and with it, grief began in earnest.
Jobs soured. Friends divorced. In May, my father died.
When school was out, to staunch my tears,
Larry loaded our boys into the car (which car? I don’t remember)
and we crossed the desert states.
Craters, canyons, caverns, kitsch motels, the kids counting
dead critters on the highway all the way to Texas.
Hellish hot, the Texas summer, but Laurie,
you and I were glad to sit in misery together.
We passed the baby back and forth, refilled our icy drinks.
The children, keeping cool, wielded water guns and hoses.
The husbands talked sports, flipped burgers on the grill. It was June.
Did we celebrate our birthdays, one day apart, together?
I don’t remember the birds in Texas, but mosquitos and chiggers
ruled the grass. Cicadas swarmed the backyard trees,
a visitation we’d not expected with its symphony of sizzle
and buzz as if a world were ending or beginning.
We could not have guessed which guests
would call upon us next. Some callers it’s best not to expect.
Donna Hilbert’s latest book is Gravity: New & Selected Poems, Tebot Bach, 2018. Her new collection, Threnody, is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press. She is a monthly contributing writer to the on-line journal Verse-Virtual. Work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Braided Way, Chiron Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, Rattle, Zocalo Public Square, One Art, and numerous anthologies. She writes and leads private workshops in Southern California, where she makes her home. Learn more at www.donnahilbert.com