What to Say If the Birds Ask by Walter Butts


And if clouds gather now like distant cousins,
it’s because weather is the mother of all things
cyclical. And if, through the afternoon rain,
the mail carrier comes with her armful of bills
and rejection, it’s only to remind us of what
we may have yet to receive. But what unsettles
me this gray morning beneath trill and chatter of birds,
signals of a coming storm in a neighborhood of strangers,
is that first death, polished wood and Uncle’s cold hand
when I was nine, the relatives and friends gone since then,
my futile guilt and anger, the failed language of regret.
But if it’s true some words are, finally, the soul’s
lexicon, then I’ll say this: Once, there was a woman
whose shadow blessed the light of a room in Boston,
a man who filled the glasses of his friends with the best wine,
a child who tasted the soft petals of flowers and spoke
their many colors to swans rippling the summer pond
in a silent lyric. Today, alone by the window, I’ve been
translating the repeated warble of sparrows perched
on the maple’s high branches. “What’s next? What’s next?”
they ask. “Soon,” I whisper. “Soon, we will know.”

W.E. Butts is the recently appointed New Hampshire Poet Laureate. His latest book, Sunday Evening at the Stardust Café (1st World Library, 2006), was selected as a finalist for the 2005 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry, and chosen winner of the 2006 Iowa Source Poetry Book Prize. He currently resides in Manchester, NH.
“What to Say if the Birds Ask” first appeared in White Pelican Review, and was reprinted in What to Say if the Birds Ask, a chapbook from Pudding House Publications, 2007. Used here with permission of W.E. Butts, all rights reserved.

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