This Morning I Woke Early by Bonni Ross


I never saw a whooping crane
But sometimes, in the summer night
I would fall asleep under the covers
Under the covers we put over our heads
My cousins and me
When grandpa came ’round with the bug spray
“So you don’t get eaten alive,” he said
And I would fall asleep safe from bugs
And all eating alive things
And get too hot
And dream strange dreams
And wake up hearing
The giant whoop of a massive bird
I could only imagine
Sailing the sky
Trailing long legs
And sounding the ending of itself
Which is a part of myself

I think the crane got confused
With the cough
The whooping cough
Which I couldn’t get
Or diphtheria or tetanus or polio either
Because of the shots
We lined up in the school gym for
One sleeve rolled up, the left
Which was bad for me, south paw,
Because the shots made your arm hurt
Which was ok for the right handed kids
But not for me

The cough which scared and hurt then killed you
Sounded like screeching brakes of the train
Trying to stop in time
Trying not to hit the moose on the tracks
At least that’s what I thought back then

What did whooping cranes sound like,
Really, I want to know
Does iTunes have a track of them I wonder?
And the passenger pigeons
Which were all gone before I was born
Which darkened the sky as they flocked past
With beating wings and calling out directions
Are there grainy old films on YouTube
With scratchy sounds of a million long-gone birds coo-cooing?
I cannot hear them in my mind so
Why do I miss them so, long for them so
As I long for the voices of my sons
Grown and gone and distant
But still part of me?

The May flies darkened the screen at the cottage
Along the whole verandah they clung to the screen
You couldn’t see the view down the lake or the sunset
But not for long their lives were short
They came in June, not May which was strange
And they made no sound at all but little bumps
And rustles as they landed and found a place for themselves
At night I thought the whippoorwill called them
Called them to dinner and ate them up
Because in the morning they’d be gone
As the quiet dawn lit the water and the sky
The last summer I was there
Not welcome any more
There were no May flies at all
And a whippoorwill’s call so rare
We exclaimed over coffee on the beach
How good it was to get some sleep at night

So many changes in one short life
Sixty six full years
Trying to learn things that were naturally known
Before we speeded up the world with our knowing better
To share the truth of lost parts of ourselves
So precious in their gone-ness as they never seemed to be
When they were granted
Taken for granted
To us, by us
This sadness doesn’t matter
To anyone but me

All my mornings have been shaped
By voices of birds
Even in winter when I wake in the dark before they do
My heart lifts with waiting
And hope


Image Credits:
Banner Image: PAT SULLIVAN, AP
Top Image: Roz Stendahl
Bottom Image: TORI, ZEPHIART