Birds of Peace and Healing

Another belated entry, though appropriate during National Poetry Month. I was of course behindhand reading The New Yorker and found W.S. Merwin’s “A Message to Po Chu-i” in the March 8 issue. The image of rescuing a starving goose stayed with me for days. Merwin redeemed a little piece of the world by caring for the goose – but he knows he is a temporary custodian. I despair that another will come along to care for the goose in the future.

Quick aside: I just now learned that Po Chu-i was a poet and government functionary (how often do we see that combination) who lived in the eighth and ninth centuries. One of the references indicated that Murasaki Shikibu used a poem of Po’s about the murder of the imperial concubine in The Tale of Genji. (See “What I’m Reading Now,” November 7, 2009 and October 21, 2009.)

The image of the goose was still in my head when I heard the poem “Gracefully She Approached” by Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, who is 82 and suffering at the hands of the dictatorship. She was featured in “On Point” on NPR. Her image of the dove with the broken neck moved me to tears. The power of the poem has again stayed with me.

Birds truly are the “canary in the coalmine.” They are harbingers of death – of ourselves and of the planet. Of war and hopefully peace. We would do well to nurture and observe them.


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