“Beginners” by Susan Edwards Richmond

We were amateurs.
We didn’t bird in our sleep.
We didn’t count warblers over coffee
or memorize their songs on the long commute home from the city.
We were occasional, if not accidental.
We took Sunday strolls in the arboretum,
met after work in the sanctuary,
nailed houses in the corners of our lots,
hung feeders from the maple and the windowsill.
But we didn’t buy tickets to Aransas or Attu.
We didn’t dance on the shores of Hudson Bay or
wait for the exhausted to drop from the sky
onto the first barrier beach on a Gulf crossing.

We could have,
but we didn’t allow ourselves.

We went when convenient,
when we didn’t trouble anyone,
when we didn’t have to miss our daughters’ recitals
or ask our husbands to leave work early or go in late.

We learned what lived close to home:
the robin, the mourning dove, the blue jay, the nuthatch.
We saw the yellow-rumped but not the Tennessee,
the wood thrush but not the towhee,
the killdeer but not the phalarope.
We didn’t talk about it.
We didn’t join any clubs.
We didn’t get up at four in the morning
(six sometimes, but not four).
We didn’t listen for the owls all night
or see the woodcocks mate or the grouse display.

We weren’t extremists.
We were guarded in our passions.
But we sensed the pleasure, lurking,
checked off our lists secretly, without
fanfare, without spreading the word.

Still it grew
inside us, our nature
demanded more than we’d been given.
We wanted to break through invisible fences,
feel the shock, of heat, of cold, of a morning before dawn.
We wanted to gulp the air on a pelagic cruise,
swat mosquitoes on the Atchafalaya, stumble
ankle deep into Pacific surf.

It took us longer.
We took our time,
but we knew who we were,
knew one day
we would declare ourselves.

Susan RichmondSusan Edwards Richmond has taught at Clark University and the Shirley Medium Correctional Facility. A founding member of the Concord Poetry Center, she has been poet-in-residence at Fruitlands Museum, editor of Wild Apples journal, and poetry editor for Sanctuary: the journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Susan’s poetry collections are Purgatory Chasm, Boto, Birding in Winter, and Increase. Her poems have appeared in Green Mountains Review, The Iowa Review, Perihelion, Poetry East, and Runes.