When I was five, I could talk to birds—me
cradled in Aunt Midder’s big-bosomed
lap on the porch swing
after dinner, her
smelling sweet like fresh peas, corn,
and Avon perfume. In our summer ritual,
she swung me to sleep
through fading heat
while daylilies and zinias grew dark in the yard.
Across the paved road, mourning doves
called from the deep green
of longleaf pine.
Meek, dreamless Columbidae fixed on a limb,
feet slim as nails driven into wood, black eyes—
unblinking—haloed in blue,
a feathered complexion of gray and rouge. And
the call—a low lament of coo-ah followed
by three long coos—
like the word who to our nested human clutch
in the swing. A concert note so pure
and clear even my bones
took up the tune—
anvil, and stirrup of my self pitched and resonant
with such rhymed codas heard near sleep.
When the birds’ song met us
of air, my aunt said, Talk to the doves,
sweetie, talk to the doves. And I answered Who,
Who, Who—no mock question
or repetition of doubt,
but my best greeting and nightly goodbye given
in a language I had just begun to learn,
my own voice soft and full
of the first flights of sleep.