"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

16 March 2011


I left a few minutes early to go to my first class this morning, the sky grey from clouds and Daylight Savings. Starting down from third floor, I felt the world spin around me as I almost lost my footing . . . not the way I wanted to confirm that indeed I cannot walk down a flight of stairs with my bifocals on. Thankfully, I caught my balance on the brass railing, then removed my glasses and continued carefully. At the landing between third and second, still moving slowly in the half-fog of unglassed sight, I found myself eye-to-eye with a mockingbird.

I wasn’t sure for a moment that’s what he was. He sat perched on the outside ledge of the picture window, looking straight at me. I’ve seen so many doves and pigeons lately, I thought at first that’s what he was — but then I realized his grey was a little smoother and deeper, his inquisitive look a little more sophisticated, and I saw his wings and that hint of white at their tips. We stared at each other for at least ten seconds as I slowly put my glasses back on.

I wonder what he saw, how he processed it — colors, size, movement? Did he see my eyes and look into them, as he seemed to? He gazed attentively, moving his head just slightly to get different angles. I moved closer, to see how long he would stay, and I nearly reached the window before he decided a threat loomed on the other side of the glass. The white on his wings and tail as he spread them in flight blazed out like the sun in the grey world.

He didn’t go far, lighting on a floodlight jutting up from the rooftop, to illuminate the building’s crenellated entrance at night, and he turned back to check out the catalyst for his flight. Would the threat follow, did he need to fly a little further? I stayed still and we assessed each other again for a time.

Just as I was thinking that I needed to go on, another flash of white and grey swooped in toward him and a tangle of feathers struck the air as they fought over the coveted vantage point. My mockingbird won, and the other fled, to be attacked by still a third; those two drew a truce and landed together a few feet away on a skylight above the cafeteria.

My mockingbird turned his head from me to his rivals and back again, alert for danger from all sides; the other two went about their business, preening themselves, hunting for insect tidbits. I turned away to go about my own business, assessing the threats facing my day, pushing my hair out of my eyes, grateful for the tidbits of joy that keep framing my days.


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