I. Cardinal

On a sizzling summer afternoon,
everything still as stone—even
the chirring cicadas were mute—

I was sitting in the shade,
taking sanctuary from the heat,
when I saw him land

at the birdbath:  in the lazy haze,
a shock of red, and that square black mask.
I’d seen him many times

before, feeding in the grass,
or singing medleys on a wire, thought I knew
what to expect: beauty

in bold contrasts.  But this
was something else altogether:  his quick step
through the watery mirror, then

flap, plash, a fabulous
effervescence, wings, like jeweled fans
opening a spectrum

of hues—from crimson and wine,
to violet and pink, then magenta, auburn, and carnelian too—
this rainbow of reds, oasis in June.

II. Crow

Expert town crier, I
am guard extraordinaire. Nothing,
no thing gets by me,

without note. Sure
raconteur, I am wise to all—
ever certain, ever

free. Glossy, bossy
braggadocio: is there anything,
anything at all

I do not know?

III. Goldfinch

Oh, goldfinch, some call you wild
canary, triller. Free spirit, acrobat,
                                                   how you dangle
upside-down, yellower than the sun-
flower you mirror. Some wish
to cage you, but clever nomad, you
carry black bars on your back, and
ever-fleeing, tease dear-me, see-me?

IV. Pileated Woodpecker

Throwback, wild laugher, I tear
the veil of morning mist with a raucous
repertoire, and shake down the silence
with my skull-cracking carpentry. You can trace
my famous appetite in the oblong holes
I dig in trees. Even my tongue
has old tricks in store: it’s sticky and extensible
to find ants, and ants, and ants galore.
My high hat red crest looks arch and
royal from afar, and if late last week
you hadn’t spotted me with my toes zygodactyl,
you’d have thought I were a lone pterodactyl.