I went walking in the woods last week,
as I often do . . .
There’s a man who lives in a cave there, and
I know why

Because the trees are so tall they scrape the sky, and the rusted peeling paint
on old fire hydrants long out of use, and broken glass
of deteriorated light poles, tell a story
that time can render mundane and broken things beautiful,
even in death.

And that is why I go there, to feel soft wet leaves
under my feet, and hear birds I can’t always see -
but I know they’re there -
and I talk to you, between passersby who might eavesdrop

Or they might not

On that day - it was near the coldest of winter, so no one else was there - the woods
an empty cavern of lost thoughts
among the few dead leaves still clinging
to a high branch

So I told you how it really was, and how I really felt.

And I said:

I miss you, I said.

And then, with tears that were instantly cold on my face, I said:
I’ve been missing you my entire life.

I’d like to know if you’re still there.

I don’t know what to believe anymore . . . you came to me last year in a dream, and then the string of coincidences that brought back someone I’d longed to see, but then it was only for a day . . . and then another day just a month ago . . . was that real? Was any of it real?

I don’t know if that was you anymore, because why would you bring back someone I longed to see only so that I couldn’t see him anymore? Did I imagine it all?

You felt so real in that dream.

But still - I’d really like to hear from you, I said. I’d like to know if you can hear me. I’d really just like to hear from you. Anything.

I came around a bend in the path just then, where two paths collide, and it was right where
the sunlight cut through the bare trees, and lit
the brilliant red wings of a cardinal in flight as though they were on fire

It darted down to take something from the ground, and then I saw another

and another

and four, five, six, seven birds,
a storm of scarlet beauty, whirling wings illuminated by the glitter of the sun

the most achingly beautiful thing
and I watched, mesmerized, my hand to my chest

the storm of cardinals circled up, and then down
they crossed the path again and again, and finally alit on a fallen log,
a flurry of life in the barren decay
a party of kinship in the lonely world,
a spark of warmth in the bitter cold,

the joy of family forgotten or disbelieved

the strangeness of pure happiness
in the seemingly endless journey of grief.