The Way Birds Must Live

by Renée Ashley

Today, a snow as fine as salt
sparse and invisible, and until it gathers
more silent than breath on the stones
on the woods, it is nothing in the air
a mist, the slightest of shadows.

The only moving thing is the perfect fox sparrow
fat and marbled, bellowed up against the cold
and choosy at his seed; he ignores the suet
the halved orange. He keeps his wide eyes down
to the ground where squirrels have broadcast

what the feeder held before; he listens for the dogs
and does not hear them. Only the English
sparrow, the wounded one, scarred on her right
bare cheek, featherless and healed,
only she utters the sound of coming and then

lands the awkward landing of the injured, old
injury, old pain. She shows no fear, but regard;
she tastes suet and picks the cleanest seed from near
her brother bird's feet; together they share
the generosity of plenty. She is his other, his smaller

self, aware of but indifferent to this slight snow, alive
with not knowing and then with nearly
understanding, their mostly silent exchange, this implausible
maneuver. She is to him what matters most
in his life: a reminder of the way birds must live.


Last updated March 29, 2023