Bird Feeder

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Contributor: Catherine G. Wolf

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For Katie who wants to learn about birds

My grandma in Brooklyn knew
all the birds by their songs–tufted titmouse,
black capped chickadee, downy woodpecker—
until Alzheimer’s like a pistol with a silencer
shot holes in her brain.
That grandmother gave me my first bird feeder
for my eleventh birthday, wrapped in silver
paper with a cardinal-red bow.
She wanted to get my glasses out of the
Nancy Drew books that consumed me
as I consumed them. Ran my fingers over the
long glass chamber, inhaled the shellacked
oak trim on the top.
We hung it in the dining room window
that snowy day in early March.
The first visitor was a cardinal,
too stubborn to fly south.
I took his picture on the frosted feeder.
I still have the picture in my bird album.
Do you want to see it, Katie?
My grandma turned me into a bird watcher,
my nose in bird books, enthusiastically recording
each feathered visitor to the feeder,
saving my fifty cent allowance to buy
sunflower seeds, hot fudge sundaes to the birds.
A shy girl given wings by that gift!
My grandma died before she saw the album.
A raccoon smashed that first feeder
into icy shards on frozen ground.

My second feeder I bought
on impulse from a pet store
buying catnip mice for the cats.
The top’s somewhat rusty
and you might have to adjust the height.
It hangs a little lopsided when squirrels
try to get the seed, but I swear,
you wouldn’t believe the variety of birds
that thing attracts. For five years,
it’s hung in my kitchen window,
the birds chirping as I have my
morning coffee. I love the tiny
yellow and black goldfinches
singing operas. They fly in
from the crab apple tree where the birds
form a kind of cafeteria line.
Such joy in color and music, Katie!
It became the greatest cat toy,
my tabby Tammy crouched by the window
springing onto glass like she had
suction cups on her paws.
My black cat Jake yodeling on the counter,
as if calling to the birds.

Now I’m giving you your own bird feeder.
So you will listen to their songs.
The collection of birds is more colorful
and musical than a Mardi Gras marching band.
I hope you will love them all, not just the beautiful goldfinches.
And one day, Katie, you’ll give the same gift
to someone you love.

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In 1996, when I was stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, my ability to speak was taken away by this disease. I found poetry had a special capability to express my innermost feelings. By losing my physical voice, I found my poetic voice.


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