Review of Feeding Wild Birds
Mayapple Press, 2013
Many books of poetry offer insights into the personal lives of their authors. Upon reading, we feel like we know these poets in a way we know our friends. It doesn’t happen with every book, but I’m happy to say it happens in Robert Haight’s Feeding Wild Birds. After reading, we know this man seeks peace, contentment, and meaning through the natural rhythms of the world. It is interesting to note that this is Robert Haight’s third book in over thirty-five years of writing; he is a slow, deliberate writer who writes at his own pace, for his own reasons.
Feeding Wild Birds is in four untitled sections, but roughly representing spring, summer, fall and winter. Most of the poems focus on nature and Haight’s observations, feelings and understanding of what it all means, as in this excerpt from “Dish Soap”:
Then another spring storm
loses the flowers to the wind,
leaves growing out of cloudy green weather.
You might take this as a metaphor
for our lives, those few moments of radiance,
the months of drab routine but I am washing dishes,
smelling rain on the breeze.
Each plate sparkles,
the suds leave white blossoms on my hands.
I love how Haight ties this spring image to the mundane act of washing dishes. This book is full of subtle and intelligent connections. The poems tell us that this poet is aware and alive in the world and, by example, urge readers to observe and connect to their worlds.
One of the overriding themes in Feeding Wild Birds is the insistence and rightness of the natural world, despite our attempts to control it. Haight continually reminds us that nature’s way trumps everything else. In “Dharma,” the speaker is worried about some baby robins nesting on the front wall of his house:
I was sure we should do something to prevent
them from falling, until one day, the nest empty
but for its down comforter, four robins
pecked at worms and danced the lawn, the same grass
that sprouts between the bricks I laid at the foot
of the stairs, no matter how hard I try to keep it out.
This same vision and sentiment is found in excellent poems like “Abandoned Farmhouses,” “Another Morning,” “The Servant of Small Things,” “Walking,” and “Let Snow Fall.”
Sprinkled throughout Feeding Wild Birds are some non-nature poems that add texture and depth to the book, perhaps even relief from the nature poems. “The Heaven of Dogs” echoes James Dickey’s famous poem, but in this one, dogs “drive their own cars / to the Milkbone Mart. / Yes, they hang their heads / out the window.” In “Relapses,” a prose poem, you can imagine the extended metaphor when it starts with “Your bad habits come back to visit like old college friends.” Haight writes about a man singing in the shower and garage in “Old Man River.”
My absolute favorite poem in Feeding Wild Birds is “The Danger of Poetry.” In this poem, Haight captures and exposes the secret of all poets. He starts the poem with “This poem takes place in another country…” Then the poem moves through a tribute of Theodore Roethke’s “Papa’s Waltz” where the father puts the speaker to bed. Here is the end of the poem:
For twenty years after that I travel around
waiting for that time when we will meet and make
our peace, which is why this poem is taking place
in Jamaica or Mexico or Quebec in Canada where I
very likely have been studying something esoteric
my father has no use for. But, of course, this too
is not true. None of this is true.
This is the danger of poetry:
what it will get you to do for more.
This also, as Haight knows, is the beauty of poetry.
David James’ most recent chapbook, No Way to Stop the Bleeding, has just been released from Finishing Line Press. He has six other books. More than thirty of his one-act plays have been produced from New York to California. He teaches for Oakland Community College.