Have to self-celebrate: The new collection Saint Peter and the Goldfinch had its launch, “Gala for the Goldfinch” this past Friday. The women’s resistance choir Persisterhood opened the occasion by rousing the audience with rich harmonies and call-and-response songs. Then I joined The John Shea Jazz Trio for a conversation between poetry and jazz. Working with John and the trio has always been a highlight of my life. I can’t explain what it feels like to read a poem, then turn it over to the trio. It sure takes the pressure off this guy. Everyone feels the music.
After the trio and I finished, everyone partied. What felt so good was being sure that those there got to be away from the oppressive feeling we carry because of 45 and his relentless cruelty. To see the joy on all those faces–it deserves to be there time after time.
So many worked so hard behind the scenes to make this happen. So many. Especially Julie. Especially our friends at the DUCC and Wayne State University Press. Thanks to everyone!
Here, again, the title poem:
Saint Peter and the Goldfinch
He’d filled the little-roofed feeders with
sunflower and thistle seeds, hooks hanging
sturdy from the birch’s branches twisting
his own arm’s length above the mulch path,
the day’s first light lapsing along the leaves.
Peter knew the neighbors were talking
about the guy in the frayed cassock
who last week moved in with only
a pick-up’s bed of what seemed to be
belongings—a small table, couple
of ladder back chairs, a sound system
that looked vintage, a lot of books,
three futons, a large canvas bag
maybe filled with pans, pots, dishes,
and three lamps, one that dangled
tiny stars from its frayed shade.
He had gone out and brought home
an Adirondack and about fifty flower pots,
and the feeders. Now he took his morning
green tea out to the chair to wait for the birds.
This, he felt cross his mind, is what I have
waited for. He sipped. A house finch came.
A couple cardinals, a downy woodpecker.
The chickadees would take a seed, fly
into the branches of the hemlocks surrounding
the house and batter to get to the meat. Time
and time again they returned. Peter tried
to count then wondered why, stopped
and thought about what to plant
in the pots, where he would place them
within the striped grass that made a nest
for the house to sit within. He liked thinking
he had nested. He liked thinking everything
here could be taken away. He had cosmos,
impatiens—no perennials until bloom
and loss became a ritual, sacred. There was
a breeze. There was the tea. And then there was
a goldfinch, just one, at the thistle feeder, its startle
of yellow and black seamless within its feathers.
Peter watched as it took the seed, sat above him.
He watched as the bird flew to the feeder, flew back
to the same branch. St. Peter and the goldfinch
here in the day’s beginning. He could not bow
his head. He knew joy’s coupled sorrow. He knew
that this was time. He knew what the earth knew.
First published in the Colorado Review
Subsequently published in Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)
Kathleen Markland’s new collection A Pen, a Brush, a Book has been published and is available online.
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