The birds were talking about me, passing ideas
back and forth along the branches.
They said I had been sick too long,
that I walked among the trees like a tall stranger,
and that where I put my foot was not certain.
They said there was a lightness of uncertainty, and a sliding,
as if my weight would not fall evenly on the earth,
that my head never moved to the left or to the right,
my chin held down, not looking up---oh that one,
I heard them finally agree: she has been sick too long.
The birds were talking to hear themselves agree on anything,
to make a convention out of the rowdiness of June.
They noted unbirdlike intrusions,
to recall that they alone were birds.
I went on. I was not tired. I could walk forever,
if forever lived in that town, but the path ended
on a steep hillside where apple trees grew wild
and I could see four mountains, and the clock tower
rising above the college library, then the highway and the river,
and Vermont in the distance like another country.
The birds were talking to put me in the ground,
to sing me down from their sky. They said that
a broken thing must be ended. My feet bruised the fallen
apples under the leaves, and overhead the treetops
were circling in air. But when I raised my head to answer them,
the wind blew in among the trees, and the flock scattered,
disappearing, becoming nothing, just specks on the sky,
distant, like ash blown up from a fire. I stood and sniffed
the spice of the apples, rotting under last year's leaves,
their heavy fragrance sweet, like the sweetest taste of ruin.
from The Radiant, by Cynthia Huntington
Four Way Books, Levis Poetry Prize