Tree Swallows


It is Memorial Day weekend and a group of
old friends and neighbors have been eating,
drinking and catching up with each other.
A brother has died. He was "never the same after
Vietnam, never had a life really, fifty years later
and the only photos he had were of army buddies".
A sister with cancer, a nephew killed in a car crash,
a family dog we all knew had to be put down.
A horse had died in its stall and they had to get Donald
with his backhoe to pull her out to the pasture and bury her.
The mink that was killing chickens was trapped at last,
a black bear tearing down a bird feeder, new fencing set.
These matters, human and country, interest us all.
Two swallows that have a nearby nest
arrive to sit on a low slung wire and rest.
She stays perched on the wire but her mate
takes off to circle around her, to fly up behind her.
He is in the tree swallows' formal attire
and hell-bent on setting his girl on fire.
As she clings to the wire he dips again and again,
his tail flipping under hers as hers lifts.
It is cloacal kissing if rear ends can kiss,
and he keeps on dipping without a miss.
"What are they doing one guest asks?"
"It's birds making love," says another.
"It looks so graceful, like acrobatics or
ballet dancing on wings."
"It's sex," says another, "without the grunting."
Then it is over and as if to celebrate
they fly round the yard in lively syncopation.

"Well that was something to see, wasn't it?"
And we all allowed it was, wasn't it?

We are at an age when bad news far outnumbers good
and seek more than ever the solace of being understood.
So when it's time to go, we go slow, reluctant to part
and yet that night as we watched the guests depart,
it seemed they left with a lighter heart,
and in this I give the swallows credit for their part.

Howard Kogan, Indian Summer, Square Circle Press, 2011.