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I can hear my mother say,
You'd better change your tone
when I started talking back.

Now when I start to speak to you, 
I approach each moment, 
each distinctive word, by sizing-up what I feel.

And what I feel from that junco in my tree, 
the first of this year, announcing the birth 
of a season, is, if I'm not mistaken,

that I'm dying for winter. Eyeing her bill of gold, 
her slate-gray back and light gray breast-
she will act as I've learned she acts.

Sure enough she dips to the ground 
below the feeders and picks among what's fallen, 
each head-bobbing peck lifting her tail

and with a slight spread of feathers 
flashing a signal of white, 
perhaps her comment on the coming snow.

Does this first single bird 
call up the sadness of winter solitude-
so far from you, that I find myself 

talking to myself? Now ten or so juncos 
are flicking their tail's white feathers 
reminding me snow is predictable-

predictable as madness far away 
in the capital of this country 
that is not my own, though it's where I was born.

Flocked, in my mind, with fools and fanatics, 
I feel saner recounting the patterns of birds 
in freezing isolation.

Across the street at the foot of a tree, 
being loyal to this moment 
and its growing clear tone,

I notice an unfamiliar bird 
with a familiar distinctive bill, twice the size 
of a downy woodpecker-a black bib,

a flash of white-drilling, as I imagine, 
for insects in the ground. 
My bird book confirms, it's my first sighting

of a common flicker. But like common sense 
in the flicker of a moment, 
around this house, it's not so common.

If I concentrate on where I am, 
in the goodness of time, you and spring 
should arrive, as matter-of-fact as a robin.