I sometimes come on headstones in backwoods graveyards
girt by their own shallow graves the size of bathtubs
and by brush, through which each one juts valiantly upward.
Lately, whenever I take to my local river,
small cavities in either side’s high sand tiers
look empty to me as those graves must be by now.
Once there were hundreds on hundreds of bank swallows there,
darting jauntily out of those minuscule lairs
to harvest the mayflies that rose from the silty streambed
toward the sun, like bright diminutive angels.
Now I find it lucky– a word too poor for what’s sacred–
to behold one or two of the birds, athletic, winged
wonders under dawn- or twilit skies.
Myriad assumptions, myriad cullings.
One tradition tells us our spirits will rise,
before which, however, a winnowing’s required.
How odd to imagine that such ideas might comfort.
The men and women beneath those knife-thin stones,
the vanished wildfowl– to me, of course, pure strangers.
Yet I feel the haunts of aerial things. They hover
over my frail boat as I remember and mourn.