The Worry Bird

God was an idea before he was an image.
And yet there are things like the worry bird
That stay with us through life and intercede
With an old darkness, filling an old need.
Hunched on a plaster base, a buffoon buzzard,
Like a firesale souvenir or piece of flood damage,
With a ruff of blue duck-down, and a rubber beak
Like a gray sock between its hang-dog eyes,
It stood beseechingly at the bedside.
“Don’t be silly,” they told us when we cried,
“Give your worries to the worry bird.” Its gaze,
A weary martyr’s, listened to us speak
As we learned patiently to say our prayers
That also left us lying in the dark,
Fringed with the light seeping under a door.
Though childhood fills with gaps as we get older,
The worry bird remains, with its wry look
And slumped wing shoulders, sagging with old cares:
The half hour they were late home from their party,
The lies told at school, accumulating,
The broken heirloom hidden in a drawer,
All things we don’t think much of anymore,
Replaced by the grown world’s escalating
Nightmares about career, money, duty.
The worry bird was meant to make us smile
As they smiled at our miniature infernos.
We know now they were right. And in their beds,
As we now know since we’ve seen inside their heads,
They had no silly icon for their troubles —
Only an idea, if at all. Meanwhile,
The worry bird takes on another form
And watches with another shade of interest,
Circling among the other distant images
That used to help and still do. Mirages
Of comfort, they can bring a kind of rest
Anyone who has been a child can know.

FROM Questions for Ecclesiastes
(Storyline Press, © 1997)

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