Life List

American goldfinch; Winston-Salem, North Carolina

First the horrible, reverberating thud  

against the glass wall of the student union.

Then the discovery, huddled on the sidewalk.

A wonder it hasn’t been stepped on.

Only as I’m holding it do students notice,

a few stopping to ask, Is it dead? No,

just stunned. Probably concussed, tucked in

on itself, black and brassy feathers just as

I remember from my mother’s pocket Audubon.

Her favorite guide for our hikes through the woods

when I was young, listening for meadowlark, for thrush.

She taught me the importance of quiet,

my flipping of the book’s pages, even, too loud.

Behind the closed door of my office, I sometimes

take it from my shelf and leaf through her life list:

a few sheets of spiral notebook paper

tucked inside the front cover. There, in her tight

penmanship, eagles and falcons over Horseshoe Lake,

burrowing desert owls, condors on the coast.

The goldfinch. Here, in my hands. A little

encouragement, gentle tossing motion

by my cupped hand—suddenly remembering flight.

The bird collecting itself for a minute

on a low-hanging branch before skittering off

to a bigger tree, then out of sight. Washing my hands

in the bathroom by my office, I blink at myself

in the mirror. Small graces. Desk clock.

Fountain pen. Old paper, thin and translucent

as onionskin. Nothing to bury or mourn today.

The Atlantic