“Robins at the Bath” by Judith Skillman

Inside the clay bowl, this one, large as a hen,
shakes feathers, a blur of wing and orange breast.
Others come hurrying across the lawn.

As in each hierarchy, the strongest
bird hogs the water, preening, pluming, beaked.
A quick-witted matriarch who insists

on finishing. Until a Flicker piques
her spa, ousts her with its alizarin
crown just by standing at the ledge to drink.

Several deep sips later—up down up down—
and the foreigner departs. Domestics
resume staccato march across the lawn,

insect-like, stop and go, come from several
corners, dropped to brush, a litter of birds
in winter—weren’t these symbolic of all

things spring? December. Grass gone gray and old
as clay, the flock continues, birds take shifts
cleansing in what lessens, an inch of cold

water. Will the light soon return to sift
through departed flowers? Paper whites
the lady of the house purchased, solstice

less than a week away, her darkest nights
long with angst…. Smaller specimens: robin,
robin, how many robins?—all are meant

to have their turn, in order. Barely one
pm, the height of day, orange and pale
green will make gray, as do all complements.

From her sink, perched behind the curtain’s swale,
the lady’s watched a comedy, divine
because it meant no harm, was just a tale,

as, in the animal kingdom, pecking
doesn’t break the skin, there being no flesh
to incur hurt. Among wild birds, bleeding’s

reserved for ducks and quail, those who, flushed,
find the hunter’s blind, its three fake walls.
What’s camouflage home to if not the grubs?

It’s only the human comes to defile.
For now the birds of spring bathe in winter.
From here the murders seem only bad style.

JudithSkillmanJudith Skillman is the author of House of Burnt Offerings from Pleasure Boat Studio. She is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in many journals, including FIELD, The Southern Review, and Poetry. Her ‘how to’ is Broken Lines—The Art & Craft of Poetry. Skillman does collaborative translations of poems from Italian, Portuguese, and French. Visit www.judithskillman.com.