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Rare Bird Alert

June 16, 2010

When a rare bird shows up in Manitoba, I always have mixed feelings. Of course, I want to see it, but I wonder about what ill wind blew it here and I worry about its fate. If the bird arrives in spring, it usually shows up with misguided expectations, and this makes me even more curious and concerned. Such is the case of a cardinal, rare here, that showed up one May not too long ago. Its appearance prompted me to write:

If you heard that solitary cardinal
whistling in full-throated, spring-time urgency
at the top of a budding tree
in the morning quiet of Assiniboine Park
hundreds of miles north of its normal range,

If you saw him on display,
red crest cocked forward,
tail pointed straight down,
perched more vertically than a Mountie at attention,

If you watched him change trees,
moving from the river’s edge
to the center of the park
and then to the far side of the meadow,
the better to be seen,

If you listened to his insistent call
for a like-minded singing female,
for a possible mate to respond in kind,
as female cardinals uniquely will,

You’d recognize the folly of adventure,
the curse of missed landmarks,
the terrible loneliness, bewilderment, frustration
of a young lusting heart.

After two weeks of advertising himself,
of pleading in rapturous song
and getting no response,
he disappeared, who knows where,
or died of unrealized expectations,
perhaps in the unsympathetic talons
of the local Cooper’s Hawk.

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