Spencer Smith: The Birds of Summer

                    Her First Masked Ball, by Mary Hatch, 2014, oil on linen, 36” x 40”


The Birds of Summer

The birds of summer are tired,
plumage dingy as an old mattress,
grasping the dying branches
of a drooping tree
with feet rough as bark,
small breasts heaving
with the effort of breathing
the baked breath of the day.
They flit to new perches,
seeking something better,
someplace cooler,
but it is all the same.
Their pale beaks hinge open
with sincere intent
but their songs have dissipated
like a drop of blood
in a pail of water.
There is only the sun,
the air dry as dirt and unmoving,
the tree with dark peeling skin,
the other birds like wicks in flame,
silently jostling
for possession of a shadow,
and I,
watching through the oven door
of my bedroom window,
birds roasting on sticks.

Spencer Smith

Review by Mark Kerstetter
“The Birds of Summer” would not be more than an excellent description of debilitating heat if its insistence did not become urgent, suggesting something more. By the time we get to the final four lines with that, “and I, / watching through the oven door,” inside and outside become blurred. We feel a complete identification with the roasting birds. We too are in the oven. And an oven, being a human device, suggests the question of agency: what, who is the cause of this heat? That “and I” comes quick on the heels of “possession of a shadow,” and so it seems cast in shadow. The question, only suggested, itself withers in the heat and the watching, down to a second question: is the proverbial boiling frog on the verge of becoming conscious of the threat?

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