The tanagers have returned to my dead plum tree —
they sip the pond through narrow beaks.
Orange and yellow, this recurrence
that comes with each year’s baby leaves.

And if the tree is a church and spring is Sunday,
the birds are fancy hats of women breaking into song.
Or say the tree is an old car whose tank is full,
then the birds are girls on a joy ride
crammed in its seats. Or if the tree is the carnival
lighting the tarmac of the abandoned mall by the freeway
then the birds are the men with pocketknives
who erect its Ferris wheel.

Or say the tree is the boat that chugs into port
to fill its hold and deck with logs,
then the birds are the Russian sailors who
rise in the morning in the streets where they’ve slept,
rubbing their heads and muttering
these beautiful words that no one understands.

Lucia Perillo’s fifth poetry collection, Inseminating the Elephant, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her book of essays, I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing, is out in paperback from Trinity University Press.