Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks




Cages stacked three deep against the wall,
I sweep seed, surrounded by wings
stuttering, wings that awaken
a little skip or a twist behind my breastbone.
I pull and replace wet papers
that separate the layers of cages
and try to imagine a kitchen
without finches, without the smell
of sawdust, without acidic excretions,
still the warmest room in the house
where I dress, standing beside the stove,
nursing a Sanka, but silent.
A kitchen without one hundred twenty two
society finches, siskins
and canaries. I try to imagine
the freedom to stand at my window
at six, and watch the neighbors’ dogs
pacing their rounds in the snow, briskly,
or the freedom not to come home at night.
There are two cages at the other end of my table,
each with two birds. Every nook and cranny
is apportioned to finches. The counter is covered.
It was not always like this. There was the night I found
the first finch, the first songbird to join me
in the kitchen. I try to imagine the silence
broken by its first song, like a camp
awakening in the woods, a long way
from conventional music. More than a hundred
birds later, I stand in my overalls
ready for work. Ready to go. It’s no good
these finches filling my kitchen,
the smell and clutter, the bags of seed,
the neighbors complaining. Too much is too much.
Each day I try to imagine
opening a cage, taking a pair of these finches –
concealed under my coat like small
exuberant breasts – and setting them free.

Poet’s Commentary:

“Another patient was a man in his sixties or so who was a very quiet bachelor. He was a gardener at a local conservatory and he had chest pain; he had angina. And one time as were talking–I had known him for some years by then and knew very little really about his personal life–he told me, in passing, that he didn’t think he could go into the hospital when I suggested it because of all of his finches. And I ask him about his finches, and it turned out that, well, let me tell it in this poem.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press:The Knitted Glove, 1991.

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