Elegy for a Cardinal
It’s a loud smack against the windshield
and a flutter of red and grey and gone
before the shock of feathers and a faint
absence of song tumble as quickly
against memory. Already it’s disappeared
miles behind us on I-78, this strange bird
migrating across lanes of traffic at rush hour.
My husband is driving and asks
what hit the glass, was it a rock,
did it leave a mark? I hesitate
not wanting to bring death with us
on this visit to his terminally ill grandfather.
He says it must have been disoriented.
Nothing we could have done to avoid it.
I want to think it had a chance,
that it wasn’t already dying
as we were driving into the wind.
We’ve gotten here too late.
The old diesel truck smoking up the street
makes fewer rounds – chances are he won’t
wake us at dawn with his warbling bullhorn
announcing Figs! Fresh Figs! Sweet, ripe
figs! Get your figs here! – chances are
he won’t come.
We wait days, nearly a week.
And then: the sweet, bursting figs
make my tongue itch, my mouth dry:
they didn’t when I was a child.
We come here claiming memories
that were never ours. We want the past,
but freshly stamped out
just for us. Give us a young Audrey Hepburn
on a vintage Vespa, repainted and rebuilt
with a twenty-first century engine.
I want the figs of my childhood, want to peel
back the thick green skin to reveal
stringy flesh and purple pulp.