This morning I was just waking when I heard a soft tap, as though a bird hit the window by the bathroom door. I was surprised to see a tiny golden-crowned kinglet clinging to the outer screen of the window, its bright eye meeting mine as I studied it. I was afraid it was stuck in the mesh of the screen. John was more or less still asleep but I made him come over anyway. What will we do? I envisioned one of us hauling a ladder to the deck below and carefully climbing up in a bathrobe to set the little king (or queen) free. John was certain we didn’t need to do that. It’s just recovering from its tap, he said. And sure enough, after a few minutes, it flew away.
The last time I saw a kinglet close up, it was dead. I hoped it was just stunned, or else sleeping, but I think I knew that was unlikely. I was walking back from the UBC hospital to the suite where I was staying while John recovered from surgery and I was a puddle of emotions. The surgery had sort of gone sideways, I didn’t know if I was capable of getting us home safely (a long drive and a ferry ride) and if I was capable to doing what I needed to do to help him regain the use of the foot that had been paralyzed as a result of compression during his surgery. Our house has stairs. There are a lot of chores to be done more or less daily. I just wasn’t sure. So to happen across a tiny kinglet on the sidewalk in front of townhouses along Wesbrook Mall was a bad omen. Wasn’t it? I lifted it gently and put under some yew growing in a planter along the Mall. They were porous days and after Christmas I wrote an essay about the whole period of surgery and recovery and the kinglet made an appearance:
Sometimes when I walk back to where I am staying, I cry. So few cars, almost no people, though I find a golden-crowned kinglet on the sidewalk in front of some residences. I hold the tiny bird in my hand and realize it’s dead. I place it on some yews just in case it’s only stunned by impact on the tall window facing the street but the next day it’s still there, a sleeping king. I cry, for the bird, for you in your room looking north, for the empty rooms I’ll return to, and I cry as I drink my glass of wine and stitch long diagonals across the squares of the quilt I am making for Cristen. Around the border, a running nerve, the peroneal nerve, often yellow in illustrations, though these stitches are white, regenerating itself tiny section by section, each the length of an eyelash, all the way down your leg to your sleeping foot? When I sew, I can make progress. As though my stitches might shadow the nerve and its uncertain renewal.
The photograph I tried to take of the little king peering in was blurry, partly because of the light and mostly because the screen between it and me. Just now I was having a soak in the hot-tub and watching the amazing activity at the bird feeder and suet holder hanging from the branches of a Kwanzan cherry, its blossoms not quite open. Usually the feeder hangs from the clothes line but it’s nice enough these days to hang laundry outside so the birds have had to adjust to a new location. Juncos, Steller’s jays, chestnut-backed chickadees, towhees on the ground below, scavenging for fallen seed, and maybe the high-pitched sound in the tall firs of a kinglet calling, perhaps to its mate, a sound described as “threadlike”. I think of the thread leading back from the window, long stitches taking me to the sidewalk on Wesbrook Mall, tucking the small king under the yews, wiping tears from my face. I was sewing that dark week, am about to begin a new quilt now, and birdsong, a nerve crushed and compressed, tracks so fine and particular, will be part of what I stitch into the layers.