for Robert Penn Warren

From this point on the road
that cuts across mountain forests,
the lake is shining and quiet,
its nearer borders a ring of foaming surf.
The fugitive birds are already here—
tenants of the warm sky and thick clusters
of rocky hills that the islands hold.
They've left winter behind four thousand miles
of land and sea, in the gathering snow.
They find their home here, in the vast expanse
of salt water that remains the same throughout the year.
Summer has just ended, but its warmth
still lingers in the clear mountain air.
The birds fly over the lake, around
its several islands scattered up to
the Bay of Bengal, dip into its depths
and flick the water off their shimmering wings and rise,
their broad bodies carrying the refracted sun
all about the territory that the eye beholds.

They are getting their first touch of sea water
which waits for them this time every year
in a soft welcoming gesture. From here
it all seems so near, like a framed picture
that shall never leave the gaze of
the attentive eye, sharing in what the eye desires.
The birds are once again here.
Seven months later, in April, haunted by
the nostalgia of yet another summer,
they shall return to the wide plains of Siberia.
From this point on the road that cuts through
mountain forests, I can only stand and watch
their long north-western flight, in huge flocks.
The eye would turn back and find only the framed picture
hanging blank on the wall of another summer.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 7 Number 8, on page 37
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