The Nest

A bird was making its nest.
In the dream, I watched it closely:
in my life, I was trying to be
a witness not a theorist.

The place you begin doesn't determine
the place you end: the bird

took what it found in the yard,
its base materials, nervously
scanning the bare yard in early spring;
in debris by the south wall pushing
a few twigs with its beak.

of loneliness: the small creature
coming up with nothing. Then
dry twigs. Carrying, one by one,
the twigs to the hideout.
Which is all it was then.

It took what there was:
the available material. Spirit
wasn't enough.

And then it wove like the first Penelope
but toward a different end.
How did it weave? It weaved,
carefully but hopelessly, the few twigs
with any suppleness, any flexibility,
choosing these over the brittle, the recalcitrant.

Early spring, late desolation.
The bird circled the bare yard making
efforts to survive
on what remained to it.

It had its task:
to imagine the future. Steadily flying around,
patiently bearing small twigs to the solitude
of the exposed tree in the steady coldness
of the outside world.

I had nothing to build with.
It was winter: I couldn't imagine
anything but the past. I couldn't even
imagine the past, if it came to that.

And I didn't know how I came here.
Everyone else much further along.
I was back at the beginning
at a time in life we can't remember beginnings.

The bird
collected twigs in the apple tree, relating
each addition to existing mass.
But when was there suddenly mass?

It took what it found after the others
were finished.
The same materials - why should it matter
to be finished last? The same materials, the same
limited good. Brown twigs,
broken and fallen. And in one,
a length of yellow wool.

Then it was spring and I was inexplicably happy:
I knew where I was: on Broadway with my bag of groceries.
Spring fruit in the stores: first
cherries at Formaggio. Forsythia

First I was at peace.
Then I was contented, satisfied.
And then flashes of joy.
And the season changed - for all of us,
of course.

And as I peered out my mind grew sharper.
And I remembered accurately
the sequence of my responses,
my eyes fixed on each thing
from the shelter of the hidden self:

first, I love it.
Then, I can use it.

Louise Glück


Margaret Ryall said...

A beautiful poem Jen. What a thoughtful selection. It is worth repeated readings. That's how I know it is good. Many times you read a poem and you are satisfied . The good ones call you back.

Jen Bradford said...

I read this in The New Yorker almost a decade ago, and it calls me back every spring. Watching a bird forage this morning, my first thought was oh! I need to find The Nest!