Poetry November 2009

Cardinal

Already, before dawn, the calendar cold moon still clear,
sparkle of ice here and there, and almost out of hearing,
he is singing, which is really, likely, countersinging,
interspersed with chip calls, then for a while,
except for the hilltop wind riffling the white-laced pines,
silence, as if he’s disappeared through a door left open
in the air.
                    Yet by noon his first-blood brilliant coloring
is fire against the snow, skilled in the way it moves
with one side of his body tilted up—one wing pointed
toward a signature of flight, one wing tucked in tight—
in what the watchers call “lopsided pose,”
on a slip of branch just outside the window
where he waits out the moment to reattack the glass,
the sun, which is striking at an angle
from ninety million miles, maybe more.
                                                            I watch him
climb the storm frame and say again his reasons,
watch him in a detail impossible otherwise—
his several criminal reds, his flared sunlit crown,
the bandit mask that sets apart the quickness of the eyes:
so when his mate shows up and he shows off his bright head
turning sideways, he tips his tail and places a piece
of pine seed into her willing mouth.
She, too, one winter, flew at the glass.

Presented by

Stanley Plumly’s recent books include Posthumous Keats (2008) and the poetry collection Old Heart, a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. He teaches at the University of Maryland.

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