A cardinal watches from the bough

Tucked like a brown ball of yarn, a sparrow hid among the rocks in our driveway. He didn’t flee when I came upon him. In fact, he hardly noticed me at all – his concentration on his breath and current. Heavy gasp. wings shake. Heavy gasp. gasp.
I bent over. He looked up, blinked and curled his head back into his quivering body. Too tired, too tired. I couldn’t leave him. I checked the time. Wondered what I could do? Who I could call? Do they save sparrows around here – the birds that live among us, sharing McDonalds french fries and discarded food. I’ve read they are city birds, people birds adapting to our waste. But I’ve never thought of them that way. They are social and small and cheerful. They remind me of home – I grew up on Sparrow Court and remember them Chip Chip Chipping.
I walked to the garage to get some seed and the sparrows and squirrels harvesting the feeders scatted with the sound of my footsteps. My little guy was not well.
I got a towel, put some food and water in the bottom of a plant saucer and walked back to him.
He didn’t look up. I knelt down, calling to him, cooing to him Wake up clucking and scratching a nearby rock. I graced the towel against his wing – nothing. Heavy gasp. Wings shiver. Heavy gasp.
He was too full to be a fledgling. I looked up for a nest, a worried mother. Nothing. I couldn’t leave him there – the mangy cats prowling the yard, the tires of my car lining up directly with him – there were too many dangers for this tired sparrow.
I wrapped him in a towel. He looked up bounce. I wrapped him up again. His mouth gaped bounce. I wrapped him up again, his mouth yellow and wide trying to yell, but nothing came out. He wriggled out bounce and hopped to the weeds and tall grass on the side of the house. He could be safe there hidden in wet leaves and so I put his food close, plucked large milkweed leaves, built him a fortress. I hoped all he needed was rest. I hoped I’d come back at the end of the day to find him gone, the food nibbled, the water sipped. The birds in the yard were chatting – I hoped he could hear them.
A cardinal left a small red underfeather on my car’s hood. I plucked it gently in my fingers – the tips covered in white milkweed blood.

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2 Responses to A cardinal watches from the bough

  1. It feels at times that we are arrested in our business, our tasks, asked to stop and witness. Like dreams, what we witness does not always arrive with clear meaning. It may be that what is important is the act of stopping, the interruption, choosing involvement over indifference. Each next indicated thing. No questions. xo

    • rachvb says:

      I think it’s our duty as poets and writers to notice the panting sparrow hidden among the rocks. But the next step – why I could never make a good journalist – is to act, to care, to help, to show compassion. It feels good to care. And you’re right – we don’t know the meaning of our actions until much later. All we can do is hope to live well and honestly and with heart.

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