Lessons from the Redbreast

Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

A little over a week ago, a dead branch I was cutting knocked me off my extension ladder, causing me to fall seventeen feet to the lawn below. By the grace of God, I broke nothing. Once I got my breath back, I reset the ladder, climbed back up, and finished the cut. I even finished hanging the tree swing that I was working on in the first place.

Still, I was sore. When I fell, I landed on my right shoulder, and my neck ached like I had whiplash. Coughing or sneezing was a painful experience. Four days later, I was able to get in to my chiropractor. He verified that I broke nothing and gave me an adjustment. That evening, I felt like I had gone nine rounds in the boxing ring. Despite the beautiful weather, I couldn’t make myself go outside. I sat in the rocker in the large room of our addition (The Observatory) and stared out the window as I began making a to-do list for this summer.

That’s when I noticed the robin preening on my neighbor’s back porch.

I had been gifted a moment of deepening. I watched the robin clean its breast, wings, back, and tail feathers, and the seeds of this poem were planted. I was practicing Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life. May this poem echo her sentiments and invite you into the intimate, simple moments of life as well.

Redbreast Reverie

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

Sitting before sunset
held in robin reverie,
I watch the redbreast preening,
expert contortionist
whose semaphore wings
signal from my neighbor's porch:
     Pay attention.
     Be astonished.
     Tell about it.
Ritual of minutes in frozen time:
dipping beak probes wings,
dents the perfect red breast,
scratches the miraculously accessible back,
combs fanned tail feathers,
repeating the cycle again
     and again
until fluffed clean,
each feather optimally oiled and aligned,
     he waits
in no rush to abandon his perch.

I stare out my window,
then fragments of this poem
sneak onto the page
beneath the imposing to-do list.
If only my behaviors
were as simple and profound,
as pointed and delicate.
Rather, my attempts to groom life
leave me ruffled and ragged,
precariously balanced on a shifting stage.

Down by Wolf Creek
my youngest son slowly pendulates
on the tree swing
over the gently flowing waters
where earlier today
a man passed, walking upstream
looking for antique bottles
amid the silt, stones, and crayfish.

Meanwhile, the robin has flown.

I return to the unfinished poem before me,
dip my pen, probing my thoughts,
denting the perfect still of a summer's evening
to scratch the inscrutable itch,
combing memories
until each word and line
optimally placed,
     I wait
     and ready to sing!

2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Redbreast

    1. Thanks, James! Just loaded your audiobook onto my iPad for our trip. Can’t wait to hold the book in my hands. Theo is especially excited. Felt good enough to throw 21 holes of disc golf yesterday without pain, and only finished one over par. 🙂


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