I've held so many dying and dead birds, I've lost count. I rescued robins as a child, I've held hummingbirds, starlings and recently, a Western Tanager in my hand as it breathed its last. I was walking in Downtown Portland, when this gorgeous, female tanager fell to the ground right in front of me. I walked with it in the palm of my hand not wanting to leave it on the sidewalk or throw it unceremoniously in the trash. The lovely staff at Patagonia gave me a box to carry it home in. I buried it in our backyard in the spot where I have buried many small critters. The next day a male tanager sat singing in the tree that stands guard over the backyard graves. It stayed for several weeks–its lovely song alerting me until I could spot its bright red cap that fades to yellow like a sunrise. I made a little visual art piece and a poem that tried to express what I couldn't fully narrate:
Tossed scrap from clouds
Collapse on concrete
Gray at my feet.
Gold feathered, dark eyed.
Chest heaving downy body.
Head limp over folded fingers.
Pedestrians straight-ahead stare
Look sideways at my mortal treasure.
Glassy eyes flutter
Heart pulsates, once, twice
Carried home through city streets
Pedestrians absorbed into nothingness again.
Gold wings laid to rest under raised branches
Crows caw and chase predators
Honest and imagined murderers.
Blazing feathers flit.
Birdsong calls through the twinkle of Spring leaves.
Calls its mate home from the silent earth
To where glimmer plays in the sky
And rises effortlessly through clouds of grey.