Common Redpolls

I didn’t know I’d seen them

for weeks before I found them

conducting a census for science

with binoculars hanging around 

among the die-hard regulars:

two common redpolls

then day after day I’d count

those uncommonly singular two

until there came a third

one day I counted ten

soon estimated dozens

for statistical purposes

Those first two would be heroes

among the commoner redpolls

if any knew which they were

if they know themselves

and haven’t forgotten the time

they were pioneers

though for all they knew

maybe last survivors

who found this place with seeds

and seeds and seeds again

so you could stay forever

you’d reasonably believe

if you hadn’t been through it before

and learned not to think

this is the place 

that never changes

I kept my studied distance

not to lose those two

but now when the flock takes off

as if it shared a mind

that minded my approach

the odd one stays distracted

from me and not by me

and if what it attends to

draws it close enough

sometimes I can see past

the pointy yellow beak

that marks it of its kind

to its mouth’s meaty hinges

and my hand feels fleshy echoes

the ticky tack of toes

the ghosts of feathery breath

I’ve held before

and I see it in the way

I’ve been surprised to see

become incarnate 

in cardboard final nests

each crashed and broken bird

patient of helpless care

not under observation

beheld as it lives

a moment more

and a moment more


He was in the middle 

of a frantic pirouette

spinning scissor spotlights

cut away the night

saw himself surrounded

lost but not surrendered

usually I wonder

(maybe you do too)

why do they always wait

until you’re almost there

as if you’d hit a trap

set up for you to spring

this time it hit me

(you might wonder why)

he panicked in the light

and this alone he knew:

because there was still time     

because it was still there

it couldn’t be too late

he hadn’t gone too far

he knew the way by heart

he knew it in his bones

he knew he would be safe

he knew he’d go to sleep

after he’d stopped shaking

wake up having almost

totally forgotten

how he’d been so careless

drifted without thinking

line by line by line

and let it come to this

one thing he knew alone:

he had to go straight home


We are all 


from the wreck 

of a ship

we don’t know 

we were on

and the wreck 

of the ship

we don’t know 

we’re on now

we may also 


On Letting Things Go

Forget it, there isn’t any

stopping it—once the leaves are

yellow they won’t be coming

back anymore—so listen,

why don’t you let it go, look

forward to spring, think how

the tulips will bloom— 

                                       and so I

look at a dried-up stalk and

split-open seed pod that I’d

secretly sheltered and I

wonder like always will it

get to re-seed itself, do

tulips re-seed themselves like

daffodils do if no one

chops off their heads because they’re 

done and they’re dead and so they

have to make way? I want to 

bring them all back or stop them

slipping away at least and

nothing will quite convince me

nothing will work—I give them

water but they’re already

wet or try fertilizer

but it’s too cold for that to

do any good. If I’d give

up on them then I guess I

wouldn’t be sad about it—

that’s what they say. It makes me

wonder how many things they’ve

given up on themselves so

they can get through each passing

day without crying. Though they’re

already gone who’d let them

go without trying? And it’s

true that there’s nothing you can

humanly do—but that

includes the one thing they’re always

telling you to: you can’t let

go, don’t let go, hang on and

hold them and hold them here, I’m

holding them here, right here, here

What Loss

What loss—

failed and fading flower flung

across the casket counting crazy 

one: two: five: two: three: two:

to waste away a way the way from

one to two to three to two to

here hear or listen listing 

lost and founder frail and ailing 

bowed and bending back break 

apart a part played out laid out and 

waiting weighing heavy hand on 

heart beaten broken stopped: shock:  

restart start over start again

start: over: over: over: stop— 

what loss

Matthew King used to teach philosophy at York University in Toronto. He now lives in what Al Purdy called “the country north of Belleville”, where he tries to grow things, counts birds, takes pictures of flowers with bugs on them, and walks a rope bridge between the neighbouring mountaintops of philosophy and poetry.

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