Imagine this: you kneel in dirt
littered with yellow blossoms,
a delicate carpet fallen from heaven
and high in that heaven of palo verde branches
cactus wrens have built their nests, two kinds,
those they use and those that serve as decoys,
built to trick the eaters of their young.
You’ve watched them bring food to their young
as you hung your laundry and weeded your lettuce.
Today you are thinning beets,
your sensitive fingers move among the thin red stems,
easing the crowding with gentle tugs, wasting nothing.
Today’s thinnings will be on tonight’s table.
It is a peaceful, meditative occupation.
A few yellow blossoms drift down
onto your shoulders, into your hair.
Then suddenly you find, between the rows of baby beets,
a baby cactus wren,
round and soft and dead, fallen from heaven,
and again you think, why do they build up there?
It is so high. The babies fall so far.
Every spring you find some in the garden
and wonder how any survive.
But of course they do.
The mornings are filled with their squawking.
This one’s feathers already show
the characteristic markings.
Your fingers move around it, continuing their work,
and you who are not really thinking at all—
that’s why you come to the garden partly, to not think—
you muse on flesh enriching the soil,
and let it lie there.
You forget, until one foot with thin exquisite claws
catches around your smallest finger
and you lift your hand amazed.
The bird hangs like a pendant,
round and soft on one side,
eaten away to bones on the other.
The tiny decomposers have been busy.
It is dry and weightless, with bones like thin silver wire.
You shake it loose from your finger,
drop it a few feet away, onto bare ground.
Finished with the beets, you take the thinnings—
their fine red stems like veins,
their threadlike roots, their small and tender leaves,
into the kitchen, then go back out to plant herbs.
You dig one hole deeper than the rest,
in good dirt, enriched with manure and compost,and bury the little bird under the parsley.
The big palo verde tree that towers over our house and part of the garden.