Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.
If you would listen, you could hear
the White-Browned Sparrow Weavers
sing duets so precise their brains work
as one, like the partners they are. You
can see them resting on the fence rail
that is pushed up like the arthritic back
of an old man, or from a branch that leans
down as if to whisper its own warnings
to the earth. But you have to look, and
you have to listen. This, too, is a vision
beyond sight. Know that they only sing in
your disappearing wild, not in the world
you have rusted like your iron cities.
The lost elms were a warning. The beautiful
red sky that opens its hands to you
in the morning comes not from itself
but the billion particles that poison it.
I can tell you now: you are smelting
your own hearts, your souls. But those
birds, their sounds translate the sounds
of stars at a pitch you can never hear.
Even your physics tells you every atom
sings to every other atom. That’s
a parable you haven’t really learned.
You could have read it in Humbolt.
You could have read it in Blake —
Everything that Lives is Holy.
When you see the moon scarred
by the broken branches of a tree
take it as a warning. When you see
a star burning out, remember
the retreat of forests into the desert.
When you mistake the horn of a truck
for the song of a bird, it is already over.
Copyright © 2021 by Richard Jackson, from Where the Wind Comes From. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Richard Jackson has published 26 books, including 15 books of poems: most recently, Take Five (2020) and Broken Horizons (2018). He has been teaching at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga since 1976, where he directs the Meacham Writers’ Workshop.