"Nuthatch Sitting on a Bear's Nose"
Really just a small cast iron representation
of the latter, a bottle opener mounted
to the southeast post of the shack's porch,
a Christmas gift from my niece,
and nothing to be stood upon, not even by a bird,
except for the nugget of ice at the end of the snout
that gives it a place. Some think art is lost
on the beasts of field and forest. Not I.
The chainsaw sculpture of an eagle
I fashioned years ago and fastened to a stump,
was sniffed at at length before the coyote
lifted his leg and joined the ranks of the critical establishment,
and I did not hold his opinion against him.
Also the badly mounted bull moose head
I rescued from a dumpster and hung on the shack's
central pier: I watched with honest sympathy
the day a cow and calf regarded it,
something like puzzlement on their faces.
As for the nuthatch, he seems for some reason
to see this miniature ursine physiognomy
as nothing more than a place to sit
a while and sing his mournful, repetitive song.
Like last summer, when I took my father to see
his brother's grave, and there was a young woman
sitting on the stone and singing, we thought at first.
But then we realized she was talking, speaking, it seemed,
and earnestly, to someone buried the next row back.
I held my father's arm, and he whispered
"Keep on walking," and we did, and the woman
stopped talking until we passed into a part of the cemetery
where no one we had known was and sat on a pair of stones ourselves.
When the breeze came we could no longer hear her
and spoke to each other about the monuments of strangers,
some simple, some gaudy and foolish,
rife with byzantine, insistent symbols, each vault
and coffin containing, my father said, "once stiff just like another."
Then he said, "No, that's probably not true."
Silence, then, just as a moment ago, when I turned
to see the nuthatch had also flown.
Robert Wrigley's most recent book is Anatomy of Melancholy & Other Poems. Other collections include Beautiful Country, Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems, Lives of the Animals ; Reign of Snakes; In the Bank of Beautiful Sins; What My Father Believed; Moon in a Mason Jar; and The Sinking of Clay City. "Nuthatch Sitting on a Bear's Nose" was published in Wrigley's 2010 collection Beautiful Country.
He is currently teaching in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Idaho, where his wife, the memoirist and novelist Kim Barnes, also teaches.