Twenty years ago I spent the day at the San Diego Zoo,
and can still place the monkeys shitting in their hands,
and, who, with some signal the oblivious voyeurs never caught,
showered us all with yesterday’s feed out their asses
to triumphant squeals and applause.
I remember the condor who perched
like a broken-hearted angel as far away from me
as she could work herself into the corner of her cage,
dreaming, I wished, in the recesses of her unknown memory,
the long glide down a frozen slope of the Andes,
or breaking the neck of a kid goat tumbling over the cliff,
then snatching it up and falling
until the slow pumping of her heavy wings
rose toward her crow-mouthed fledglings.
There were hummingbirds with tail feathers long as wild turkeys
and beaks like the fingernails of a Khan.
When my wife spent her last months feeling frightened
I nailed up feeders at all four windows
that were filled with ruby-throats
that she said were like messengers telling her
Be not afraid, looking where they disappeared.
The silence that followed was different
from that which she had kept to herself so long,
she was becoming a distant and gentle memory,
but now her refusal to speak is often like the emptiness
broken only by vandals in deserted asylums,
although less than the silence of the Catholic priest
deaf, playing his harp years ago on hardwood floors next to my rooms,
the struck string trembling up through his body,
leaving me alone in his practice of loveliness,
realizing I was called upon as the only one to hear that music.
That fear followed my wife to her deathbed,
the way Nijinsky reinvented the ballet curled up in a London madhouse,
not fear of falling off the earth
but fear of the passion of being caught forever,
helpless in the sickening falling thrill.
These are necessary labors, uselessly mad,
and welcome death.
I tried to remember
my son’s mother was no longer dying, falling farther,
no longer waiting to hear the beating of great rising wings.
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