Goldfinch in Thistle and Goldenrod

(note: Not far from Heroes Wetland are some meadows and in these meadows the Goldfinches gather thistle and Joe-Pye seeds and build their nests, usually in the crooks of branches 5-10 feet off the ground. In the winter the goldfinches stay to eat the seeds of the round balls that hang from the Sycamore trees. The Goldfinches are marvelously communal and travel around a small area in small flocks or families,. The males fly in loose circles in the summer calling out to their mates. Their bright yellow bodies shine against the glorious blue sky of summer.  I have spent years studying these birds, getting to know some individuals, and they are daily companions where I live. The following poem is about one afternoon with them.)


A Brief Picture of a Goldfinch's Life


All afternoon long
I have heard their
golden song in the shadows
of great blue trees;
and the goldenrod fields, thistle full,
and sun on the thistledown, like silken rainbows--
a humming throng of cicadas and crickets
and its nest in the thicket,
four feet from the ground,
of thistledown woven,
whose seed it eats;
and the sun beats like sheets
of white heat glowing,
where the female,
the color of cloudy summer mornings,
hushed yellow,
like sunset over the Great Lakes,
 --a suppressed glow of green twilight
graying in the golden,
sun-swollen landscape,
sitting on her nest
of eggs, dawn colored.

And he,
-- astonishing such a bright yellow
 is nearly invisible--
 in the summer leaves
of trees soaking in sun;
black wings, midnight
streaked with light
and his breast
yellower than yellow,
higher yellow  than yellowest--
to show his mate
he knows the summer glow
more intimate than orange
and closer to his heart
than flying wings.
Not gold of sunsets, but brighter than topaz
cooler yellow than the hottest flame--
its breast glows with brightest dawn
not sulphur or saffron, but yellow of
Cabbage butterflies and the starlike
center of lilac or blue asters.

 None have told of these midwest afternoons
except maybe Charles Burchfeild
in paintings of the July and August's
throbbing growth where ironweed
burns purple in the swallowtail sun.

 Wingstem, like sunflowers spinning
and the goldfinch male
first on the goldenrod
and then the thistle
picking seeds for his nesting mate.

 They live in a daytime Milky Way of Wildflowers
blooming in a sun-drunk, expansive
sea of forb-glowing fields of light.
Like purple and yellow stars
spinning in a field of yellow heat.
and as the day lengthens into blue
he sits on the branch he always sits on
and sings to her of summer
and she responds, barely audible
and their intimate songs
importuning long yellow days
that the joys of such light
might bring their young
into a goldfinch world,
far from humans
whose divorce from the land
no earth-married goldfinch
can understand

 His undulating flight
describes the lines of the Ohio
hills, gentlely up and down
over green drenched fields
where blackberry bushes already
ripen into bronze and red.
She sits on her delicate nest of thistledown
and raises her head
to where he lands
on the nest edge
where he feeds her thistle seed,
beak to beak, dinner together.

Their entire universe
around this nest
turns an ordinary field
into a Milky Way of
wildflower sunshine
while thistle whirls around goldenrod,
Monarchs in the ironweed with Swallowtails,
Skippers and Cresentspots,
and all the world is goldfinch
and Spangled Fritillary
and tangled brambles of berries bursting
and more goldfinches singing
over the hills at sunset.




Copyright 2002 Mark Koslow. All Rights Reserved.