Mockingbird on Dogwood / Oil on black canvas / 5x7 unframed / $68
IN THE SPRING, WHEN WE LIVED in Portsmouth, VA, a mockingbird sang outside our window. It was a virtuoso, with more than a dozen songs in its repertoire.
All well and good - except that this mockingbird insisted on singing at night. And he favored a branch of a tree right outside our bedroom window. For a month or so every year, probably during mating season, he kept us awake, night after night after long, exhausting night, repeating his 13 or 14 or 15 songs again and again, never in the same order, so every time you thought you might be able to fall asleep, he'd start a different pattern, a different path, and draw us in again.
It was maddening. But the songs were beautiful, exquisite, and made a memory that still makes me smile today.
This morning, I am grateful for the beauty of the huge, nearly full moon, shining so bright in the middle of the night that it made the trees cast shadows on the lawn. Its beauty took my breath away. I'm grateful for anything that stirs me so deeply.
What makes you grateful today?
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it's neither
lilting nor lovely,
for he is the thief of other sounds -
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;
mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life
to come through. He begins
by giving up all the usual flutter
and settling down on the pine's forelock
then looking around
as though to make sure he's alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins
easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as though his subject now
was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else's
and it was too hard -
perhaps you understand -
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.
- Mary Oliver, in "A Thousand Mornings"