— American goldfinch; Winston-Salem, North Carolina
First the horrible, reverberating thud
against the glass wall of the student union.
Then the discovery, huddled on the sidewalk.
A wonder it hasn’t been stepped on.
Only as I’m holding it do students notice,
a few stopping to ask, Is it dead? No,
just stunned. Probably concussed, tucked in
on itself, black and brassy feathers just as
I remember from my mother’s pocket Audubon.
Her favorite guide for our hikes through the woods
when I was young, listening for meadowlark, for thrush.
She taught me the importance of quiet,
my flipping of the book’s pages, even, too loud.
Behind the closed door of my office, I sometimes
take it from my shelf and leaf through her life list:
a few sheets of spiral notebook paper
tucked inside the front cover. There, in her tight
penmanship, eagles and falcons over Horseshoe Lake,
burrowing desert owls, condors on the coast.
The goldfinch. Here, in my hands. A little
encouragement, gentle tossing motion
by my cupped hand—suddenly remembering flight.
The bird collecting itself for a minute
on a low-hanging branch before skittering off
to a bigger tree, then out of sight. Washing my hands
in the bathroom by my office, I blink at myself
in the mirror. Small graces. Desk clock.
Fountain pen. Old paper, thin and translucent
as onionskin. Nothing to bury or mourn today.
~Jim Whiteside “Life List”
I keep a “life list” of sorts. It isn’t like a birder’s list of species seen, but a collection of those of you who have reached out to me over the decades of my writing.
You dear folks I hear from are as varied as the birds that visit our farm.
Some soar high with adventuresome spirits.
Some are earth-bound, home-loving and egg-providers.
Some are nocturnal while others are early risers.
Some eat only seeds while others prefer worms and grubs.
Some are shy and rarely seen or heard from and others visit every day.
Some sing amazing arias and others squawk and cluck and coo.
Some have been stunned by life and need to be held so gently
until able to fly again.
You all are clothed with a feathery finery,
whether shimmering or flecked with light or simply pure gold.
Each one of you touches my life, sharing some small grace, becoming part of me.
Please reach out in a comment here or email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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