Scarlet Tanager, Saratoga Springs


When you returned from that wonderful summer in the south
to find pond and lake icily indifferent to your thirst,
mounds of snow waiting to complete your burial,
every shiftless wood unprepared to provide a green meal,
you had no strength or time to tell us about it or complain in the usual way:
while your wings in rhythmic memory still answered the wind’s buffeting
and you shook the sea-salt from your feathers and the sun and stars out of your eyes,
too tired, you clung to the lowest bough making your only possible statement
– scarlet on white,
a speech long interpreted
as bloody fact or threat.

Snow’s diminishing was now certain. In a few weeks, if you survived,
you found food served by the repentant blossoming wood.
And then, your blood-colour furled, you flew to the highest bough and you sang
in detail, without violence, a civilized version of your story.

'Scarlet Tanager, Saratoga Springs', from Living in the Maniototo (Virago, 2009), ? Janet Frame Literary Trust 1979, 2009, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Ltd. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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