Saturday, February 15, 2014

`Beauty Makes Background of All Around It'

“beauty / makes background of all around it”

The window in my office is the size of a dining room table upended. I face the window, blinds open, when working at the computer, which sits on a table. My desk is behind me, a place to keep the telephone and paper files – archaic technologies. When daydreaming I watch the Italian cypresses and Chinese tallows sway in the breeze, and the passing students and the gleaming conduit and AC equipment on the roof of the next building. Earlier, before the crash, I saw a hawk riding a thermal east to west, his course as parallel to the roof line as the unseen horizon beyond it. 

This has happened before, at this very window. I didn’t see the crash, only the aftermath. The sound reminded me of Steve McQueen’s baseball bouncing off the floor and wall in The Great Escape. I saw the gray mass drop from the glass, and went outside to view the wreckage. It was dead, its bill bloodied, its neck turned 180 degrees – a pigeon, or rock dove, or “rodo,” as birders call them. The heap, gray and iridescent blue and green, was lying on the steel grate below my window. Inside, I told the custodian about it and he quickly removed the body in a plastic trash bag. Les Murray begins “The Emerald Dove” (Dog Fox Field, 1991) with these lines: 

“We ought to hang cutout hawk shapes
in our windows. Birds hard driven
by a predator, or maddened by a mirrored rival
too often die zonk against the panes’
invisible sheer, or stagger away from
the blind full stop in the air.” 

My dove won’t do any more zonking or staggering. Murray’s emerald dove – a Pacific rim native almost identical to our drabber pigeon but for its dazzling green plumage – flies through the open window and into the house pursued by a sparrowhawk. Murray’s language is memorable, as always – “rectangular wrong copse” for a room,” the bird is “barefoot in silks / like a prince of Sukhotai” and “Modest-sized as a writing hand.” The final stanzas are a marvel of empathy and reverence without sentimentality: 

“…it was an emerald Levite in that bedroom
which the memory of it was going to bless for years
despite topping our own ordinary happiness, as beauty
makes background of all around it.”

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