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 Scarlet Tanager 


We’re off to the woods.  You come too!

(Kill that phone, you iIdiot.)


Let’s be first to greet his return.


For surely he’s arrived

By the fifth of May,

Our little high priest of the Andes.


(But who can be sure

Of anything anymore.)


The only begotten bird of the sunset,

Who comes to judge the splendor of the May.


We’re under the canopy

Of more light than shade—


The new tiny leaves

In their natal green,


The cascades of painted trillium,


The purple isles of hepatica


Are things to remember Paradise by.


The shits who toss

These plastic water bottles

Ought to be droned.


Can’t you feel it—can’t you?


No mosquitoes or biting flies!


Come July this path is the Via Cruca.


We’ve sent off a sunning ribbon snake

To thread the quilt of last year’s leaves—

And hear that trill?

The toads are courting in the marshes.


If only this woods stretched on for miles.


If only road traffic couldn’t be heard.


There goes a spring azure!—


All these dead trees.

If only we hadn’t imported the ash borer.


—And here comes a mourning cloak.


Jesus, the partridgeberry

Is blooming in May.


Please don’t step

On the rue anemone.


Listen! The oriole!

The joyful Baltimore oriole—

He’s back from Colombia,

Whistling his work into play!


And that’s the old-man’s snore

Of the blue-winged warbler—


See him on the branch,

The little guy in gold?

No, his wings are never blue.


And the red-eye from Ecuador

Has flown in the vireo!

That’s him we hear now—the red-eyed,

Resuming his daylong filibuster.


And listen: the ovenbird!—

His rather irritable emanation

From the understory.


Okay, he’s not so crazy to be back,

But he’s arrived nonetheless

And so welcome our amigo from the Yucatan.


So many fellow travelers

Have returned from the tropics,


And so surely he’s back

In his miracle red-ripeness—


Our sacred heart

In the breast of the woods


Who must be seen

To be believed—


We are all Doubting Thomases

Before our spring's first tanager.


Look for him

In the canopy

Like a ruby bud

In a rosebush,


Like a blood drop

From a finger-prick

Of the hand of God.


There he is!


No, sorry—

It’s just a cardinal.




Oh, ever-faithful cardinal,


Our gallant scarlet friend

Through all the seasons,


What can we say?


Forgive us this idolatry

Of one who comes and goes.


But so much fondness

Grows in his absence,


And you are of the rich

Who will always be with us.


Plus, the birdfeeders,

The ones I fill for you all winter,

Don’t forget about those.


Friends, this olive is invasive

And it’s everywhere.


Hear that?

The horror!  The horror!




Take out those ear buds!


Gray tree frog.


His schoolmarm soprano hysterics.


Those blasted hunters—

Pick up that shell casing, will you?


Now shut up

And listen for the scarlet tanager.


Listen for his

Not-quite-the-robin’s song


That is also



A little wood satyr!—


See him in the sunray

On the mayapple?


Off he goes,

Our little woodland book

Of common prayer.


And the dragonfly

That just zipped past,

Strikingly lime?


Eastern pondhawk.


A truly voracious predator,

Forever a minor confusion away

From devouring itself.


Listen!  That chick-burr!

Did you hear it?


Can you hear it?

That’s him!


That’s the signature call

Of the scarlet tanager!


This way.  This way.

Shhh. Hear him?


He’s somewhere up there

In the budding maples.


There!  On the bough!

There he is!


Scarlet tanager!


Our first scarlet tanager.


My friends, how did we survive

The winter without this flame?


Yes, he is so warm

And delicious to the eye!


That tropical brilliance

That is only his own,


That looks to have seared

His own wings and tail.


He has to be a fire hazard.


So he hasn’t abandoned us yet.


We’re still forgiven

Our devastating immoderation

And mostly mindless globetrotting.


But how long before—


Never mind.


Welcome him.


Oh welcome him.


Welcome him back

To his summer home.


Welcome the scarlet tanager.



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