2022; Suppose I were an unremarkable




The nuthatch not only climbs up trees quite as nimbly as
the woodpeckers but also climbs down, often hanging his head
downward . . . How did the Creator manage this?
—Christian Ludwig Brehm (1822)


Of all the many theological questions
we might address about the Maker’s aim
in devising certain organisms in nature,
that of the nuthatch seems pretty minor, Herr Brehm.
Think, as anyone would, of the platypus,
or even the charming quokka, who strictly speaking,
is a kangaroo, and yet it scampers up trees,
presumably like your nuthatch, its wee head pointing
up. (I can’t learn a thing about how it descends.)
I’m much less puzzled by the way the nuthatch climbs
than by matters that I for one find more obscure,
even about this creature. Consider its name:
Old English apparently gives us Hnuta (“nut”),
while hakken (“to cleave”) derives from Anglo-Saxon.
I’ve often watched this small bird probe for bugs,
but hack a nut? I don’t claim it can’t happen,
only that I’ve never seen it, no matter the oaks,
prolific around our house, would surely provide
ample opportunity. And so
I’m as much an agnostic here as I am with God.
In short, the Creator—She or It or He—
has managed to show an assortment of odder matters
than the nuthatch’s habits, mere curiosities.
Some are brutal. Why, say, do we creatures
feel we need other humans to abhor?
Why is there war? Why cancer? Believers or not,
such questions are endless for us. I notice a more
diverting enigma downhill: two hooded mergansers
who scan, as they do each spring, the shores of our pond
for a woodpecker-hole to nest in. Just as I’ve never
beheld a nuthatch crack nuts, I’ve never witnessed
these ducks as they flew into such a shallow hole.
Why don’t they cave in their brains? You see, as a rule,
I don’t need prodigious questions to spark my wonder.
Yet it’s hard to ignore a few of the big ones, I fear.
In anno domini 2022,
our perishing republic’s all on fire.
Why do its people tend to be so cruel
these days? I admit, to use the old chestnut’s words,
that’s a tough nut to crack, and I’m too old to crack it,
which is why so much of my thinking’s for the birds.
I hope they can lift me, if God won’t, over the racket.

Suppose I were an unremarkable

bird, a junco, say
(I do like juncoes), couched beneath
a brush-and-sapling canopy
at the edge of a patch cut. Then I could simply
be a part of late winter.
Now and then I’d dart out, my tail spot
flaring and disappearing. Right after—
back to the scrub. There are times when I long
for such hiddenness and shelter,
for few to pause and notice me
as they passed by. Of course, I’d be there,
but they’d feel scant interest in my look or my voice.
I’m just another human,
but there is—what?—some conspicuousness
in me, some loudness. Or so I imagine
in any case. If my bones were hollow,
if I were flimsily clad
in feathers, I could be less than any
x that marks a spot on a map.
Of course this yen for modesty
is absurd, not to mention vain.
Why should I think that I’m widely regarded
or that anyone cares about what I say?
Yet I’d like to hide lest something I’ve done
bring me shame or dishonor.
If I’ve sinned, I can’t say how. Perhaps
I’d as soon not hear an answer.
And thus in daydream I cloak myself
in a slate-colored garment, and talk
with a voice that few would stop to hear
on an ordinary walk.