When the cardinal outside our window lifted its wings
With a cry to embrace the air and escape the cat -
Knowing as I did all worldly things,
Replete with knowledge, on wisdom grown fat -
I'd not have troubled to turn my head,
For experience had quelled all unseemly fires
Of outrage, as the heart in increments acquires
The bloat and ballast of the dead.
But "Oh!" you cry, "Look!" you point, and so I do
To where the stretching cat embeds its claws
In pine bark below the branch the red bird flew.
Laugh now, as the kitty-cat sits to clean its paws,
Lick its lips, patient promise of tomorrow's fray:
One day, my child, you'll question, my answer ill-wed
To your delight in the game they play, the feline's flay
At the crying cardinal's fleeting red.
While your mother slept from the surgeon's blade
I beheld you, in universal babe's apparel
Wrapped: placid, curious, with no malice made,
No memory of the downward journey's peril
Through the gloom, nor of how your mother's belly bled
To bring you to the light. The panther stalks
This whitened hall
Panting his survivor's tale of straining claw
And feathery fall,
The pitch and pallor of the dead.
Beast and man, embrace them while you can, restrain
The lion, free the lamb, balance to matter and mind
Restore. For love and lust wax and wane
Like moon and stars, severing sacred ties that bind.
Trust no somnolent rhythm; be not compelled nor led -
For the lion by design devours its young,
But your voice must never be among
The praises sung,
The tone and tenor of the dead.
In longing we sang through the wall of the womb,
Our green gowns a shield (as if by water blessed)
Against Nature's stain: to the cold touch of this room
You would not yield without a cry of protest
That only a child may enter. You will hear it said
That we live a while and are no more known -
But, oh, flesh of ours and bone of our bone,
In your mother's passion creation groaned
To call us to recall the dead.
When you are grown to a woman remember this:
That your mother, like you, has forgotten the pain,
For she held you when still too clean for a kiss,
That in no arms but hers have I ever lain
Since the promise was given, by which love is fed,
That we pray your beauty ever serve no disguise,
As the world was made new again through eyes
That raise the living from the dead.