Thursday, October 28, 2021

Poetry Friday: Birdtober Day Twenty-Nine: American Redstart


This is day twenty-nine of Birdtober, and I have to say I'm pretty proud of myself for posting daily poems all month, in the middle of some pretty challenging days. Today's prompt, American Redstart, is a favorite bird for me, and I've already posted two of my poems here in which these lovely warblers appear. You can read them here and here. The American Redstarts are in Haiti right now, and yesterday, though my yard was almost devoid of birds, I saw two of them.

Today's poem has been writing itself in my head since the day in July it describes. It happened on the day after the assassination of the Haitian president (the "Haitian news" in the poem), and so our minds were filled with both the pain of that recent event and the joy of being with both of our children together for the first time in many months. I'm sure I'll write more about that day. 

American Redstart. Photo Credit: Molly Hogan

My scrubby yard in Haiti

Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

American Redstarts

In July,
in a North American summer,
Haitian money in our pockets,
Haitian news in our hearts,
we watched American Redstarts
in Spearfish Canyon.

We’d watched them many times
in our scrubby yard in Haiti
in a Caribbean winter,
flitting back and forth
from the neem tree
to the ficus
to the calabash tree,
and now,
here they were
in the Black Hills spruce.

Hard to imagine how they could thrive
in two such different habitats,
but then,
as we looked from the flash of reddish orange
to our two grownup babies
waiting ahead of us on the trail,
we remembered how our babies
had thrived in the same two habitats,
Haiti and the US,
flying back and forth like birds.

Being a baby,
bird or human,
is risky.
Migration is risky.
Some human babies get stopped at the border,
and some get sent back in an airplane,
but our babies,
carried on privilege,
went back and forth,
back and forth,

And in July,
here they were
in Spearfish Canyon
walking together,
here they were, thriving.

Here we were,
and here were the American Redstarts,
who flew here in the night,
avoiding bad weather
and predators,
avoiding slamming into tall buildings,

Here they were,
showy with their black-banded tails,
flitting back and forth,
as though life were all singing,
which of course it isn’t.
They were singing
and my grown up babies
were laughing,
as though life were all laughing,
which of course it isn’t.

Here we all were,
all of us,
in Spearfish Canyon
on a day in July,

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Here are the other Birdtober poems I've written this month:
Saturday: Black-crowned Palm Tanager, an island endemic that I often see in my yard
Sunday: Bowerbird, and its bizarre courting rituals
Monday: White-throated Dipper, an amazing little bird that dives for its food
Tuesday: Ring-necked Pheasant, the state bird of South Dakota

Wednesday: African Pied Wagtail, a bird that lives all over Africa

Thursday: Crested Caracara, and its rather disgusting eating habits


Linda Kulp Trout said...

I have been enjoying your Birdtober poems, Ruth. I think this one is my favorite!

Linda B said...

I've been thinking of you often, Ruth, hoping for you and Haiti to be okay. You write these "life it is" poems with such a lovely voice, it feels as if I'm hearing you reading them. It's a poignant capture of that time which I remember when you shared you were there in South Dakota but now connected to your children and the favorite 'traveling' restart. Thank you!

Denise Krebs said...

Ruth, oh, my. This is absolutely my favorite bird poem so far. I'm getting shivers and weepy eyes with this one. Sooooo much truth....

"Here they were,
showy with their black-banded tails,
flitting back and forth,
as though life were all singing,
which of course it isn’t.
They were singing
and my grown up babies
were laughing,
as though life were all laughing,
which of course it isn’t."

Wow. I love the connection between your children and the Redstarts.

Liz Garton Scanlon said...

Oh, lovely! I'm going to have to scroll back and read lots more.

laurasalas said...

Ruth, this I've been working on "more" poems lately. Poems that are about something but that open up to mean more or invite the reader to think more deeply on something. This is such a wonderful more poem, and it's one of my favorites of yours, ever. I love it. Here's to a life of thriving, even though that doesn't make it all laughter or singing. xo Laura

Janice Scully said...

This poem is so lovely, Ruth! I have two grown children and so identified with the scene you describe and the parallel story of the Redstarts was so interesting. Your life has been such an adventure between two different worlds. Your children are fortunate, I think.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

We see Redstarts here in Wisconsin during their spring & fall migrations. I love how you've tied their routines to your family's travels and the concept of thriving. Your specific details make me feel as if I'm right there. Such a powerful, hopeful glimpse of a moment and its complex connections!

jama said...

So lovely, Ruth. I like the interweaving of the redstart migration and your family's stories. I'll chime in with the others who've deemed this their favorite of your birdtober poems!

Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, I agree with Denise that I think this is a stellar poem and one of the best in your birding collection. I love how you blended the bird's experience with your own babies and fit in the upheaval in Haiti. Stay safe and enjoy Halloween if it exists as a fun family event in Haiti.

Karen Eastlund said...

Beautiful, Ruth. It's a great poem and I'm proud of you also!

Linda Mitchell said...

A beautiful poem, Ruth. October and Birdtober have been good to you. I love the play of back and forth, back and forth in this poem.

Michelle Kogan said...

I too like the call and respond/analogy between the birds singing and the adult human children laughing, and the movement of both flying back and forth. Also your calling out the dire freedom which many can't access–it's been devastating and inhumane when I hear they've been sent back. Brava to all the poems you've created, wish I could've been writing each day, but I plan to keep this project going, thanks. Hope you, your husband, students, and friends are all well–you're in my thoughts.

Mary Lee said...

You write about the privilege of your children being able to fly back and forth, but layer it with the challenges and dangers for both birds and children, and I'm struck by the great gift that you give to us: bearing witness to all the "Haitian News" you've been through over the years, keeping us grounded and never letting us forget OUR privileges here in the relative safety of the U.S. Thank you for your writing, your reporting, and for your heart.

mbhmaine said...

What a masterful poem, Ruth. I, like so many others, love the way you've linked those redstarts to your children and your own migrations. There's so much truth and heart in this poem.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Mmm.I like how this migrates back and forth, lightly and meaningfully, carrying us.

Jone said...

Wow, Ruth this is so stirring. I think you might ave a beginning of a chapbook.