Why I Need the Birds

by Lisel Mueller


Original Language English

When I hear them call
in the morning, before
I am quite awake,
my bed is already traveling
the daily rainbow,
the arc toward evening;
and the birds, leading
their own discreet lives
of hunger and watchfulness,
are with me all the way,
always a little ahead of me
in the long-practiced manner
of unobtrusive guides.

By the time I arrive at evening,
they have just settled down to rest;
already invisible, they are turning
into the dreamwork of trees;
and all of us together --
myself and the purple finches,
the rusty blackbirds,
the ruby cardinals,
and the white-throated sparrows
with their liquid voices --
ride the dark curve of the earth
toward daylight, which they announce
from their high lookouts
before dawn has quite broken for me.

-- from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, by Lisel Mueller

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem makes me think of my wife. She is always noticing the small encounters of the day and how they seem to draw our attention out of its patterns in order to whisper to us of what is coming up on our path.

...always a little ahead of me
in the long-practiced manner
of unobtrusive guides.


Birds are a particular favorite of hers. Their song, sometimes sharp, sometimes melodic, calls out for attention. With their gift of flight, the way they perch high on treetops and lampposts, they are messengers, watchers, sentinels. And among their own kind, they are gossips too.

My wife is always listening to what birds have to tell her.

Lisel Mueller's poem especially evokes birdsong at those two liminal periods, dawn and dusk, when everything is changing, our reality is shifting, when the world is handed off between day and night.

There is a tree outside our bedroom window. When we leave the windows open, we can hear the birds' first tentative calls in the gray light before dawn. But I especially like the communal, nestling chucks and soft chirps as they are settling themselves down among the branches in the early evening. At home within the descending dark, they become part of the fading branches and leaves until they are purely the voice of the slumbering tree itself--

already invisible, they are turning
into the dreamwork of trees


And the world quietly turns, carrying us all. From their high place, the birds see the coming dawn first. They call out to it, and call out to us to wake and witness and celebrate with them.

.myself and the purple finches...

ride the dark curve of the earth
toward daylight, which they announce
from their high lookouts
before dawn has quite broken for me.


Have a beautiful day!



Recommended Books: Lisel Mueller

Alive Together: New and Selected Poems Second Language: Poems The Need to Hold Still: Poems Dependencies: Poems





Why I Need the Birds