BY DONALD PLATT
And what have I to show for six decades but a few thin, remaindered or out-of-print volumes of poems? Not one word wondrous as this barn sparrows’ nest my wife found fallen from rafters into the caked mud. It was not stomped into nothing by her horse’s hammering steel hooves cantering out, “You can’t, and you can’t!” No, she reined in hard, jumped down, alighted in the indoor arena’s raked sand, sawdust, mud, manure and scooped it up in both palms. Nest the size of a demitasse. It was clean and empty. She brought it home. It sits on a saucer painted a bull’s-eye’s narrowing, concentric circles— red, white, light blue, azure, white, yellow, orange, white, azure, white, green— on our kitchen counter. Painstakingly, slowly, day by day, two sparrows built it from dead, dried grasses, some with tiny seed pods still clinging to them, a bit of white twine, straw, and many silver horsehairs. It is almost weightless. It is spirals so intricately woven together that gazing into the nest is like looking down the throat of a tornado, a still from impossible, daredevil weather-channel footage shot by a cameraman in a two-seater Piper Super Cub. Tornado that took out two towns and killed three people last night. Channel 5’s morning news showed piles of toothpicks that were houses. Winds at two hundred miles per hour, the supercell passed us by. We and the bird nest survived. There the sparrows laid their gray brown-speckled oval eggs, no wider than a Winged Liberty Head dime, which hatched into more brown barn sparrows. The parents fed their nestlings livestock feed—oats, wheat, and corn— as well as ragweed, crabgrass, buckwheat, and the occasional caterpillar or grasshopper. The nestlings grew feathers. The new fledglings flew. No need for the nest, it was abandoned by both parent and offspring. It stayed lodged in the barn’s rafters until it fell. I hold it—light, brittle, but still supple—in my left palm, think of our two daughters now grown. Lucy who wants to apply to medical schools and interviewed yesterday for a job as a scribe in the ER, to follow the doctor from curtained-off room to room, to transcribe on a laptop computer case histories, diagnoses, plans for surgical procedures, meds, postop follow-up. And Eleanor who starts her internship next week on the high-risk obstetrics unit of a hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, who will take notes in French, which has become her mother tongue, who is training to spend her life helping women give birth to screaming, bloodied infants, whose new mothers and fathers will work long years to raise them into men and women who will go into labor and deliver their own children . . . It’s dizzying to think this way. All I know is that I’m holding in one palm my life. It is tiny. It is so insignificant and magnificent that it takes my breath away. It is made of straw, gray grasses, and shining silver horsehairs.
BY DONALD PLATT
for C.F. The morning you committed suicide, Dana and I were making slow unhurried love in a beach house with the windows open so we could hear across the hummock of the dunes the surf’s continual sighing. I didn’t learn of your death until five days later when a friend sent me an e-mail announcing your memorial service and including a link to a gallery of photos and videos. At the click of a button, you come back to life. There you are, in stylish purple-rimmed glasses, hair cut short as a boy’s, feeding leaves to a giraffe near the wooden sign that says, “Kenya Safari Club, Zero Degrees Latitude.” You giggle while a Sykes’ monkey, with its white throat like the ruffled collars in portraits by Dutch masters, balances on your bare arm. I gulp when I play the video of you being interviewed by the Kenyan schoolgirl who asks you to describe your family. You reply, “When I was in college, my mom got cancer and . . . and that was that . . . And so, you know, since then it’s been . . . I’ve just been on my own and trying to live the best life that I can live.” Two seconds later the video ends. After Dana and I made love the morning you died at twenty-nine years old, I washed off sweat and sperm in the outdoor shower. I keep walking the beach. Moan after moan, waves hypnotize me. Steady metronome of rollers sounds eternity’s diapason. I hear you say again, “I’ve been . . . trying to live the best life that I can live.” You did. In another video clip only ten seconds long, you joke to your lover, “Sarah, what are you doing? Making a video of me blinking?” She takes a close-up of your face grinning from a pillow. It fills the frame. You’d just woken.