In this cool capsule I wait my turn at the stop sign. Lucinda Williams sings me a poem about lonely girls. A heron flapping slowly by, headed east, fans a liquid shadow across the doorway of the small market as a woman I don’t know pushes out into summer's morning weight, a young girl limply coiled around her neck and waist. The shadow slides off them as she squints and fumbles in her purse for her keys. The girl slips. As the woman bounces the child up on her hip, sweat blooms dark under her arms.
I wrestle the birdbath onto the farm store counter. It’s glazed a dark blood red. Bonnie at the cash register tells me she’s been admiring that one. It’s half price I say. I say this heat is hard on the bluebirds. She looks at me as though it’s not doing much for her either. Stands in front of the cooling fan arms out. I nod, wave off help from ancient, limping Turner the stock boy and totter out to the feverish car with it slippery and cradled in my arms.
I look out at the garden as I rinse the lunch dishes, trying to make out the funny dark shape in the patch where carrots are just coming up. I have to get the binoculars to put together the Brown Thrasher face down in the dirt, wings spread, tail fanned. It must have keeled over in the humidity, mistaken the carrot bed for the birdbath, a tragedy of mirages. I reach for a shallow plate to fill with water and place near it in case I am projecting cowboy Westerns on what could be normal behavior in a slim brown bird. When I turn back, it has flown off. I carry out the plate and a pitcher of cool water anyway.
I drive north to the city for an afternoon meeting, pass kids dripping ice cream cones down a sidewalk like breadcrumbs in a fairy tale. One curly-top wearing sparkly dark wings fanned on her back sits with a small cone in a red wagon pulled by a man who chats coolly with a woman as they walk along. Dogs follow with their tongues. It’s unclear if the kids know the dogs. Curly Top holds out her cone. Black Lab licks. Curly Top licks too.
I reach home near dusk and take a pint of fresh raspberry sorbet from the cloud-spilling freezer and hold it to cool my forehead while I fling open windows and doors. It’s as hot out as in, in as out. I look out at the birdbath, still but for a single ripple folding across the water. Down on the patio just below I notice a Black-and-White Warbler lying legs up to the sky, chest still. I leave it be in case I’m mistaken—it’s not stiff, just still--but in the evening after a cool bath, I lift the bird’s surprising weight onto a serving spoon and deliver it to the dark, mosquito-ruled woods. A breeze lifts the white down on its breast, fans the black and settles; a Robin urges me on, insects counsel me not to read too much into any of this.