Thursday, April 20, 2006

Expecting the Unexpected

A brief spring rain just drizzled across the city. Now, the sparrows are gliding from tree to tree, flitting up and down fences, and picking at shredded paper in the warm sun. Before the rain, I stood outside on our porch, surveying the numerous varieties of flourishing grass that need mowed. A jay glided upwards to perch in the towering canopy of the old oak tree across the street. A pair of cardinals dashed through my vision, one after the other, toward a blossoming magnolia tree in what seemed the ritual precursor to mating. A robin alighted on the chain-link fence near the catwalk I take to the gas station. Then in the neighbor’s front yard, among the dandelions and sparrows pecking at blades of grass, I spotted a bird I’d never seen before. Its throat and belly were both the yellow of tulips in full bloom, its eyes were banded by black, and its crown was the same soft brown as the common sparrows that fill the trees and skies in our neighborhood. After twittering about for a moment or two, it took wing. Now, it’s long gone.

I think, after consulting Google, that it was a common yellowthroat that perhaps had strayed from one of the densely wooded areas that spot the Cincinnati metro area. I’m certain that it’s a possibility, but it may have been a yellow-breasted chat, or perhaps a yellow warbler. But, I’m not certain, and to me, this is crucial—even if this admission gives you a bit of skepticism about my ability to identify birds.

You see, I no longer know what will ignite the next poem, and I never know if I’ll need a fire extinguisher. It could easily be the image of that bird blending in with the dandelions or its sudden absence or simply the sounds of the words “yellow-breasted chat.” Better, to my mind, are the unreasonable notions that swirled, ever so briefly, around my head before I strolled inside to sate my curiosity and find out what type of bird that tiny thing was. At first, I assumed it was some sort of finch I’d never seen. Or perhaps it was simply a sparrow that had wondered too near the nuclear power plants near Lake Erie whilst migrating. Or, in an even less likely turn of events, the sparrow might have been kidnapped by garden gnomes who had painted it the color of daffodils with the intention of keeping it as a mascot. Luckily, that sparrow escaped to lounge among the dandelions of the neighbor’s lawn. Finally, since it is spring, it could be the result of genetic mutation, and that bird could simply be the luckiest male sparrow in the world.

So how many potential poems is that? No matter. I won’t write one of them. The point, however, remains the same. To write, you have to pay attention. Keep your mind (and your imagination) open. When it’s safe, try saying hello to strangers. Listen to both far-right Republicans and unwashed leftists in Che Guevara t-shirts. And carry a notebook wherever you go. Just think, the entire world—no, the entire universe—is soil for your poems! Your pen is the plow that breaks through the hard ground of the ordinary, and your imagination is the rain that tumbles down with a bolt of lightening, a roar of thunder.


Anonymous me said...

"...numerous varieties of flourishing grass that need mowed."

to be! need to be mowed!!! Yinzer.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Les said...

I've never been called a yinzer in my life. Wasn't sure where that turn of phrase came from. Are you sure it's Pittsburghese?

5:42 PM  
Anonymous me said...

It is, in fact, unique to Southwestern PA.

12:27 PM  

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