Staying in One Place
Riding fence last summer
I saw a meadowlark caught by one wing.
(My father saw one caught so, once;
in freeing it, taught me compassion.)
futile circles around the wire, snapping bones.
Head folded on yellow breast,
he hung by one sinew, dead.
Gathering cattle in the fall
I rode that way again;
his yellow breast was bright as autumn air
or his own song.
I'm snowed in now, only a path
from the house to the cows in the corral.
Miles away he still hangs
frost in his eyesockets,
swinging in the wind.
I lie heavy in my bed alone, turning turning,
seeing the house layered in drifts of snow
and dust and years and scraps of empty paper.
He should be light, light
bone and snowflake light.
As this poem progresses from life and summer to winter and death on a western South Dakota ranch, the speaker seems almost driven to desperation to recuperate summer's youth via a "bright" feathered bird whom she knows, or wishes, to be "light." It may be a stretch to read the meadowlark as some crucified Christ figure, hanging from the wire, "swinging in the wind," a still-useful sacrifice, apparently, for the poet's own yearned-for regeneration from a house and bed and body now "heavy" with age and futility, but the poem is ultimately less one of "compassion" for a dead bird (killed by a human fence, after all) than of surcease from suffering for the human psyche.