Some Birds Never Sing

Even after church bells, car horns, or the noon whistle
have set such a good example,
the world is more silent than we dare know,
a surrendered, limp, unspeaking thing.
And it conceived no duty for itself,
as I glimpsed you through the screen window
of the rooming house,
saw your wide chest,
shadings of a feathery new beard,
and the monotonous tilting of the fan.
I wished I were not there.
But I had brought sliced meats and bread,
jewels of fruit, some chocolate, and cold milk;
so we sat together while the fan, like a child,
turned from one to the other of us,
in the melting afternoon light,
the world crushed into the gravel
of its four o-clock hush.

What can really be expected of any of us?
With moments like these,
how squeeze words from mere light,
words to fix all the broken things of the world—
as surely, you, my silent boy, are broken.
How speak of fixing
when I know there is no fixity,
when I know that everything that’s born
does shudder before the fire,
the kalpa fire I know is coming,
raging through the universe,
destroying all that is
with its burning and its loving wings.

[Written in 2012, three years before my son’s death in a fire. —JW]

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