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Warblers, Ibis, Sparrows, Bittern, Kingfishers
by Ed Ruzicka

Even swaddled, Baby Henry wriggles
as if a worm works inside him.
He spits up onto cotton draped
over my daughter’s shoulder.

I call Baby Henry “Killer” because
my daughter is one of the new-minted
Fatima’s whose eyes flash above masks
as she whisks into patient’s rooms,
attends them bedside, orders new meds.

Martin, her husband, is even more at risk
in the ICU where he has to force tubes
down sedated throats so a machine
can fill failed lungs. Both carry
the hospital home to wee bean Henry.
Neither lets us within ten feet of our little pip.
No telling what might have found its way
into the frail birdcage of his ribs.

Renee and I stand on the lawn.
The three of them stay by the door.
Martin shows us what they call “Superman.”
Martin puts Baby Henry tummy down
over his shoulder. Sleepy Henry stretches
halfway straight, maybe too dangerously close
to an unseen load of Kryptonite.

The next weekend we take the canoe out.
Oars on knees, wind nudges us under
cypress branches luminous as lettuce.
A yellow bibbed bird lights, fluffs
six feet above Renee’s shoulder. Maybe
a vireo, maybe a warbler? Let’s go with vireo.
Back out in the lake we drift through dozens
of birdcalls, each an illegible signature
with its own set of runs, quavers, fades.

I barely know a handful. Maybe I’ll
recognize more by the time I get young Henry
into a boat, row him around, teach him to keen
into the silence behind all the birdsongs
that will have gone extinct before he
learns to tune his own ears up.

PHOTO: Philadelphia vireo. Photo by Patrice Bouchard on Unsplash.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem moves from the early Covid period to the amphitheater of a nearby lake where birds still thrive. Every year now I listen deeper and deeper into our mornings and try to hear just a few shrill notes from the bushes. We used to have so many birds that crossed over or stayed in our yard and neighborhood. Now though the city has learned better how to quash the mosquito population, though ants choke to death on pesticides in underground chambers and hallways, though the lawns are lush with chemical nutrients and weed killers, the birds are few and are dwindling.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ed Ruzicka’s most recent book of poems, My Life in Cars, was released a year ago. Ed’s poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Rattle, Canary, the Xavier Review and the San Pedro River Review, as well as many other literary journals and anthologies. A finalist for the Dana Award and the New Millennium Award, Ed is an Occupational Therapist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he lives with wife, Renee.

PHOTO: The author on a lake near his home in Louisiana.