Language has always saved me. The way we can play with it, surrender to it, lose ourselves in it
Antonia Matthew was born in England before World War II. Her radio play, “Antonia’s Homefront” built around the letters she received from her father in Burma during WWII has recently been produced on WFHB By Richard Fish and won a Gold Award in “Hear Now Audio Fiction and Arts Festival.” She is a member of the Writers Guild of Bloomington and a student of Women Writing for Change, Bloomington, Indiana.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Antonia, what poems have you brought for us today?
My backyard is empty and silent
My backyard is empty and silent.
No, not because a red tailed hawk is circling,
not because the neighbor’s black and white cat
is lurking under the forsythia bush,
not because, now the weather is good, the bulldog
across the alley barks and whines on the end of its chain,
and not because Duke Energy men
trim tree limbs away from the lines,
No, none of these things,
it's because song birds are dying.
Robins have discharge over their eye,
birds are found dead on the ground.
The DNR has told everyone,
while scientists work to find out why this is,
to stop feeding birds in their yards,
to remove bird baths, empty the feeders,
discard the seeds, and wash everything with 1% bleach.
So, when I sit out on the back porch,
nothing hangs from the curved, black, metal shepherd crooks.
Not the mixed seed cylinder, the domed safflower tray,
the small nut holder, the suit cake and the nyer seed cylinder
with its small slits, just right for finches.
The wire cages around them, to keep out the squirrels, are gone too.
No longer does the chickadee fly in for seeds
or the hairy wood pecker hammer away at the corn cobs.
The nuthatch doesn't scuttle head first
down the young sycamore to reach the feeders.
The mourning doves don't gather
under the feeders, pecking up fallen seeds.
The robin is not perched on the small dogwood,
ready to fly in for its turn.
There are not flashes of yellow swooping by
stopping to seize a seed, then flying away.
The red glows of cardinals,
defending their territory, are gone.
Even the bully birds aren't hanging around,
the raucous jay, the intimidating grackle,
the gang of starlings that settle everywhere.
And no squirrels sit hopefully
in the hemlock trees, or chase each other,
leaping from branch to branch, chattering.
I no longer pull up the kitchen blinds carefully.
There will be no small hawk
perched in the tree beside the window.
I don't open the screen door slowly and wait,
looking round, before I go out on the porch,
not wanting to scare any birds from the feeders.
I don't sit there at all times of the day
to watch and listen to those I think of as friends.
Friends who have become particularly dear
during our pandemic.
Living creatures moving, singing, wanting to come
to my yard for the seeds I put out for them.
Here in this empty silence, I am alone.
A silence not broken by the wren's strident song
or the short barks of the woodpecker as it swoops away,
or the chirping of a cloud of sparrows in the bird bath.
The yard looks and feels like a house
after the owners have moved out
leaving me, forgotten, in a silent and bare room.
Sonnet in the time of plague
Some things outside are looking just the same.
Across the road my neighbor’s yard’s unmown.
High in the trees, the squirrels play their game,
and rabbits nibble on the plants I've sown.
But people walking with their dogs are where?
The young man on the skateboard doesn't pass.
The voices of the children I would hear,
they and their puppy playing on the grass.
are silent and their parents don't go out.
Something is here, a Something we don't name
in case to talk of it would bring about
the very thing that's driving us insane,
because this sickness pulls us all apart,
forbids the healing touch, so breaks the heart.
You’ve been listening to the poetry of Antonia Matthew on the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.