A Gift of Warblers
The old barn’s tool room was a humid square.
Wasps hissed from clumps of mud.
Honeyless combs hung from beams
as hornets spun their cyclones in the eaves.
All summer the brown box radio stammered
news of circling storms. Heat popped the water
jug’s cap, warped windows shut, drew
odors of cows from the original chestnut.
On cool nights I penciled warblers
around knots on plywood slabs. The hand
jig saw raised a burr along the lines.
Sawdust clung to hair like dampened fur.
With a camel hair brush dipped in paint
I stroked the wood to olive crests,
black face masks, yellow breasts,
white wing stripes and dustblue backs.
Glued to strings on a lilac branch
they were Calder cutouts, lilting as I puffed
their feathers into flight. For years they hung
in my grandfather’s ice house studio,
his typewriter below, clicking through summers
like ice picks on blocks once stacked
in sawdust where he sat. Today
mold drifts like snow under the ice house beams.
Ragweed scatters seeds across its tilting steps.
Cedar shingles, split by lichen,
powder at the touch. The gift still hangs
over the black skeleton of his Royal type.
I brush the gray wings and saltwhite tails.
They turn towards me as once they turned towards him
as he hummed the names: Blackburnian, Magnolia, Myrtle,
Cape May, Cerulean, Black and White.
By Henry Hart
Recipient of the 2010 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize
First published in Verse Issue 4, 1985
Copyright © 1985 by Henry Hart