Five Goldfinches

Karl Kirchwey


for Bill Patterson

There’s an apple tree in the salt meadow,
            its trunk backswept by the years
of winter gales, advancing in retreat, so
if it could walk, it would walk like Groucho.
            The flawed fruit drops and smears,
                        melting from yellow to brown
                       as it lies in the tangled lawn,

making a wasp-stung dizzy smell
            where burnt-out stalks of lupine
lean against goatsbeard and teasel.
Like grains of light added to a scale,
            first one goldfinch hops down,
                       then another and another, as
                       they pick seeds from the pomace,

kicking the beam imperceptibly
            toward the end of August,
then vanish before the eye
only to reappear gradually
            as a smattering of gold dust
                        or small blizzard of yellow
                        in the twisted trunk’s shadow,

to move and freeze and look,
            in their illusive math: nor
in memory will they forsake
this poor pelting house of cedar shake,
            but even miles distant and months later
                        still gorge on the deliquescent hoard,
                        each delicate-wristed bird.

KARL KIRCHWEY’s Stumbling Blocks: Roman Poems was published by Northwestern University Press. He recently edited an anthology of poems about Rome for the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series. He is working on translations of poems by Giovanni Giudici (1924-2011) and Giorgio Vigolo (1894-1983). He is associate dean of the humanities and professor of English and creative writing at Boston University.

image: Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch (detail), 1654