Recently I came across this line of poetry:
a bird is building a nest out of torn up letters.
It is from a poem by James Schuyler, an American poet unknown to me. I did not read that line in any poem by him, but rather in a review of a memoir that opens with that line.
The image fascinated me the moment I read it. In my mind, I could see the bird sitting on a nest, scraps of envelopes and stray paragraphs surrounding it. The envelopes were in shades of pink and blue, the stuff of bakery boxes. Some of the scraps were love letters. Maybe there was a condolence letter in the mix or a letter trying to repair a family breach.
I fell asleep some nights thinking of the nest of torn up letters. What did the letters contain? Why were they torn up?
After more research, I found the line was from the poem, "An East Window on Elizabeth Street," and was not even the entire line. The complete line reads:
a bird is building a nest out of torn-up letters
and the red cellophane off cigarette and gum packs.
Oh. That's a whole different image, a whole different nest. This is an urban bird, a bird scrapping for whatever bits and pieces it can find to construct its home. Those torn up letters? Oh, any old thing would do—an electric bill, a notice from the optometrist, a collection letter.
With the (slowly) warming weather, birds are starting to be more visible. I hung two suet feeders on the old dogwood that is just outside the kitchen window. Occasionally I see a grackle or two perch on them. Sometimes I stand and watch the grackles tear at the suet, twisting their heads at impossible angles before flying up to a higher branch and peering down again. The other day I saw a Downy Woodpecker hop up the vertical trunk of the same tree, testing the wood as it went.
The birds will be building their nests again. We sometimes have robins nesting near the house—once over a front porch light, more often in the dogwood. Their nests are made of dried grasses and old flower stalks and sometimes even a piece of shredded paper that has blown out of the recycling.
But no torn up letters, no pastel colors, no bird sitting atop a broken heart.