By Winter Light


An old man at his kitchen window sees
by winter light, beyond a rough-hewn wall,
now held by weeds and skeletons of trees,
the garden gone untended since the fall.
Hard to see among the mud and moss
and rampant tansy tainted yellow-brown,
a tiny dun-gray bird flits quick across
his narrow view, back and forth, then down
to earth to peck at specks. For all it tries
against its beak it takes so few to eat —
the old man marvels that such a meagre prize
can stoke the fist-sized spark of vital heat.
It flutters up the thorny hedge and skips
from vine to branch to probe the dark decay.
The old man tries his tongue and teeth and lips
against some words: sparrow? swallow? jay?
Once, the words he needed simply came
and bound themselves to creatures, one by one,
but now the bird flies off without a name,
as if some earthly knot has come undone.

Richard Wakefield’s first collection of poetry, East of Early Winters (University of Evansville Press), won the Richard Wilbur Award. His second collection, A Vertical Mile (Able Muse Press), was short-listed for the Poet’s Prize. He is Professor of Humanities at Tacoma Community College.