The birds on the brown-and-floral wallpaper in the kitchen at the old folks’ home are someone’s idea of parakeets in repose. Again and again, they stare over one wing at a trailing vine, or look straight ahead at a huge poof of bronzed peonies and more trailing vines. They sit, their wings folded like tuxedos of uncomfortable men at an opera. Outside, the world is framed in snow—slanted, determined and driven snow. Just beyond the window, a bush whose flowers are unknown to February, twitches under the weight of house finches. They come and go, little brown flames scattered up in haste. But one sits a long time at the top of the bush, sways as it holds on, its gaze steady, conscious. In the intense light of sun-on-snow, its shadow seems to multiply and mingle briefly with the shadows of the wallpaper birds, a sort of alchemic dance. I imagine it is calling the wallpaper birds—and me—to come stake our places too, on branches that will soon be piercing green and flecked with yellow stars. I like to think it only takes one to call us back from the edge of the world.
This is a notional exphrastic poem, in response to The Dance Lesson, by Edgar Degas, 1879. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.