Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby



The sky is different here, but even in town we pay attention to the birds, judging them
the way we judge everything else eking out a difficult life. I don’t envy them, such effort
to become airborne, their frighted wings beating against the pavement, raising the dust
before they raise themselves. The neighbor’s cats take their toll, well enough fed
but hunting anyway. They blandly toy with the dying songbirds, wounded house wrens
and finches, bloodied and disoriented, blind to the bending of their own fate, still hoping
for flight. We all do what we do to keep going without giving it much thought.
We would never classify the acts that fill our days as struggle. Anything can be a science
save your own life. Who can be detached from that? We look to nature and hope to find it
beautiful and transcendent, somehow beyond our lowly doings, but it’s best not to look
too closely. The birds take flight for a time, and I will aver they are beautiful
while it lasts. I sometimes wonder if love is not a thing to be accomplished
but what we are, no more a choice than the color of our eyes. Last summer
I put off cutting down the mimosa tree because of the robins nesting
in its leggy branches. I stood at the window and watched them flying
load after load of straw and twigs and mud into the tree, shaping the nest
with the curvatures of their own bodies, a furiously constructed extension
of their own earthly form. It was a tree ill-suited to home building. In a thunderstorm
I watched from the window while one of the birds sat the nest without complaint
as the tree swayed wildly in the wind, the weather, to me, merely something to enfold
into my writing, a vehicle I might freight with some precious meaning, artificial
and delicate, arranged and rearranged in these marked-up draft pages dealt out
on the desktop as deliberately as a losing hand of solitaire. I never saw them after that;
they must have given up the nest. I found a shard of blue egg on the grass, light enough
for flight in the least wind, possessed of a strength of design that is sometimes sufficient.
I took the tree down the next day, a piece at a time so it wouldn’t reach
the power service when it fell, the branches with their prehistoric fronds gliding
to the ground below my twelve-foot ladder. Mimosas are beautiful in June
but they are more weed than tree, breeding so many volunteers in the small city yard
where I intended shortly to teach my own children how to walk. I had no remorse,
the chainsaw ripping at the wet wood, coating my gloved hands and the bare skin of my arms
with sawdust regular and squared, not a form found in nature but the shape of its ruin.

Bobby C. Rogers grew up in West Tennessee and was educated at Union University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the University of Virginia. His first book, Paper Anniversary, won the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize at University of Pittsburgh Press and will be published in fall, 2010. He is a professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He lives in Memphis with his wife and son and daughter.