Naming the Birds

The beach is noiseless,
stretching behind my father’s house,
a mile of stones and driftwood

for those herons, ghostlike,
carefully picking their way
down the shoreline,

all knees and neck,
looking for crabs or something
they lost in the surf, and my father

points at them and says their names
like he is making a wish.
Then they are all gone and it’s just me

and the seagulls hover overhead
saying their own names,
the sky making those sounds

airplanes make when the world
has nothing left to say to you.

I have no memory of any wish
of mine coming true, no knowledge
of how a man turns to another man
and promises never to leave him,

but the other day I named the shadow
of a cardinal through a frosty window

for my son, described it so he would
know it when he sees one for himself.

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