The Haudenosaunee claimed
the song of the bluebird made,
Flint, the terrible winter, flee–
the time of hunger, the time of
freezing, when wind moved through
the long house bringing death,
it was this plump little bluebird
singing on the branch of a birch
at the edge of last summer’s cornfields
that frightened Sawiskera, the giant, away
who made the ice on the Finger Lakes recede,
who called the rivers to flow again,
who made the first green come.
At the time of glaciers, a single tiny bird
sang forth its medicine against the snow
and all that became the Northeast
woodlands rose to its song.
Such power is given to small things
so that we will not forget
lest we become evil giants,
ego-rotten, filled with carrion and bones–
a portable winter that kills whatever
it touches in passing. Men are so
afraid to be small, so eager to blot out
the sun. One day, the bluebird
will sing and we will vanish, too
melt like the ice from the land and back
will come the spring. Unless we learn
to hear such little things in all our
constant striving– such little things
that stop us, in our tracks, to pause and listen.
What can I hear, Sweet Christ, I have been deaf
so long. What has stopped up my ears?
Send what is little back into my heart.
I have a bad heart. It is sick and swelled
with its own self-importance. Send me
this little piece of a summer’s sky.
Open my ears, that I might hear the husks
of last year’s corn creak, and groan
in the fields, then hear the bluebird from
the gourd I hung on the white pine branch.
tu-a-wee, tu-a-wee… Open me to my own
song, my own singing: small, clear
and with no fear. Cast out my fear
What could love be but to will the good
of the other without fear?
Before I die, make me a prophet of spring.
Say I sang to break the ice
around my own heart and was brave enough
not to fear that word–not to fear
the rolling eyes of more sophisticated
poets. Say I said heart without
hesitating. Say I said song,
I wanted only what love wants: three notes
clear and bright, to dance on the body
of sadness until we break its bones.
Joe Weil is a piano player and storyteller who grew up in industrial Elizabeth, New Jersey. He is an associate professor at Binghamton University. His poetry, reviews, and quotes have appeared in The New Yorker, The Boston Review, Rattle, Paterson Literary Review, Poet Lore, and The New York Times. His latest book is A Night in Duluth (NYQ books). He lives in Binghamton with his wife Emily, and children, Clare and Gabriel.