Because I Stand by This Window

In the last week, the Christmas cactus by the computer has grown bright green shoots two and a half inches long. The light is changing, lengthening, and the wind is whirling. Long sticks of trees across the street sway like dancers in a sea-sky with clumps of clouds and splashes of blue.

Out the back window onto the backs of houses, I stare into feather-dusters of dark green white pine, and beyond, the twisted high vaults of the neighbor’s elm. These are my trees, I belong to them, and to the gnarled, dwarfed crab apple which soon will die, yet still takes its awkward stance by the fence.

What does it take to fall in love with the physical world? To know a place as an extension of oneself? To let the gaze expand from inside through the glass to the outside world, where daily I spread seeds for the birds, spill out the used bird bath and refill it with warm water. Yesterday evening six morning doves lifted off in irregular pairs with a whirr of wings. My doves, I said to myself, not to possess them but to let them own a part of me.

Last spring after our brutal winter of heavy and continuous snow, first one, then the other of a dove pair found their way to the seeds in the back yard. One seemed to have a bulge at one side of her breast. I was afraid she was injured. But what could I do? Their lives must be lived in danger, as are ours, only different.

Gradually she recovered, if indeed that was what happened. Maybe she was already carrying eggs. Truly I could only guess–today six doves, the next day, none. Have they all six died? I am not in charge, nor do they owe me anything but their soft mournful calls, their soft gray pliant shapes which suddenly open to a fantail edged in white.

The doves take me back to childhood visits in North Dakota. We did not have morning doves in South Carolina, at least not in my cityscape. Only pigeons. But as I lay in the quiet upstairs bedroom of my grandfather’s North Dakota house, I heard the coo-coo and was told it meant rain. Listening as a way of knowing oneself in a moment in space.

Wallace Stevens, the great 20th-century American poet, wrote, “The greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world.” So I am not poor, counting over my riches, in this fading light of a blustery late March evening.

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