At the Edge

Phoebe, we would expect you
every year with your mate nesting on the porch
up under the eaves in the safe dark
though the floor right below you was slantly sunlit:
every spring you knew the spot and came back
or your son, or grandson, whichever,

and then one year not. And then not again.

We drew up blame sheets:
it hadn’t been enough that we quit sitting on the porch,
we ought to have stayed off it altogether
until your little ones had flown
to make sure you remembered it as a phoebe haven
where you’d nested well, you
or your father, whichever.

When you had wintered well
this would be a good forest for a phoebe to come north to,
our Hill here
(or for a vireo, or a catbird—
but you sang right past them, it’s just the phoebes
you sang to and heard sing);
the Hill had at least four phoebe nests every summer

and then fewer. And maybe next summer none.

We drew up blame sheets again:
our children make too much uproar in the woods,
we ought to lock our dog in at night,
we ought never to have let our guest bring her cat for a week,
the Hill is not phoebe-friendly like this—

but now a deeper blame sheet hushes us:
the Hill is phoebe-friendly
but it is not enough of a forest to be a phoebe haven
(or vireo, or whippoorwill)
and it never was: it was the edge
of a forest worth flying north to,
and you came and made homes in that forest
right out to the edge
our porch

until now that the heart of the forest has fallen
to grinding aliens with mandibles of steel
not edible by rodent or worm
not even lysed by clostridium and methanobacterium,
now our Hill is left, but it is not enough forest
with the heart gone.

You come to the Hill for these few last summers
though it is not enough,
we glimpse you at forest’s edge in time too as in space.

I need there to be some phoebe country to which you come,
and though my habitat is not yours or the muskrat’s
I would wish when I have wintered well
to come to your same forest
at the edge,
I or my son,
or grandson, great-grandson, whichever.

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