~This poem originally appeared in Meridian (2008).
Listen, then. Quiet as a dream. As the moment
she held her breath to see the man who touched her
all night was not the one next to her sleeping. If
that was a dream. The man she met in the woods
with whom she stood knee-deep in mayapple
naming one hundred birds. On the woodchip path
he took her heart outright and called it a ruby, a painted
rose-breast, a crest, a blood-red crown. Even
without her heart, even within a dream, she knew
to put her plume in his hand was never to go back.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM
This poem began when I held a wild bird in my hand. I reached into a canvas sack, and once I had the bird’s head secured in the crux between my index and middle fingers, I pulled out a tiny ruby crown kinglet. With the help of a biology professor who I happened upon in the woods, I clamped a numbered aluminum band around the bird’s leg. Then I got to band a white-throated sparrow; I was amazed as I held the bird to see its eyes were unexpectedly human-like: dark brown with a wide black pupil. Before my happy accident of finding a field team tracking bird migration patterns, I had been in my studio/room at the Ragdale Foundation where I was on a two-week poetry residency. I had begun my morning reading Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris. Then I started Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s Song, but I only made it halfway through her book. I was wonderstruck by these poets’ precision, which revealed my limited discourse with nature. With authority Gluck wrote: hawthorn, snowdrop, trillium. And Kelly: wren, tulip poplar, wild turkey. I decided I needed to put down the book, take a walk into the woods and try to discover a poem, or at least a proper name for something. My curiosity gifted me with a biologist who welcomed me to join his field team.
For the next ten days, I woke before daybreak to tease birds out of nets, measure their wings, note their mites, band their legs, and release them back to the wild. I learned to identify and name more birds than I knew existed. In the afternoons, I would write. Birds began flitting through my dreams. The rush of new knowledge sparked in me a kind of yearning. Desire found a new landscape. “Migration” was born out of that experience, and it is the opening poem of my manuscript, Our House Was on Fire, which has been a finalist in book contests and remains under submission, waiting for its right home.
ABOUT LAURA VAN PROOYEN
Laura Van Prooyen is the author of Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press). Recent work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and The Southern Review, among others. She is a recipient of grants from the American Association of University Women and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and also was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for her poems. Van Prooyen teaches creative writing at Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art + Design in San Antonio, TX. She earned her M.F.A. in Poetry at Warren Wilson College. You can find her at www.lauravanprooyen.com.