Beyond the window, morning sparrows made
Their song as if the whole world’s goodness paid
Its plenty out for them and them alone.
The old saint heard their joy and squelched a moan
As his legs, stiff and heavy still with sleep,
Arranged themselves beneath his cassocked heap
Of belly. Where had he left off before?
He asked his three amanuenses, more
For their sakes—sprightly fingers, sluggish minds—
Than his. One said, with the forbidden kinds
Of birds and what their figures signified
For Moses, who charged the eagle’s flight with pride.
Aquinas sat a moment, mind withdrawn
From his mouth’s taste of buttered loaves, the song
Without, the wish for more wood in the fire
To clear the frost from stone or to admire
The cool swift brilliance of all he said
As a swan plumes its white and well-turned head.
He spoke: the long-beaked ibis feeds on snakes
To represent the man whom nothing slakes.
Feasting upon dead bodies’ opened gore,
The vulture symbols all who thrive through war.
When Noah let the raven out to fly
It never did return, to signify
Such men whose souls are blackened by foul lust
Or who, unkind, won’t give back trust for trust.
Within the plodding puffball ostrich
Is figured those weighed down with growing rich
And, hearing God’s call, plant their soiled head.
Plovers like gossips on stray words are fed.
And who, on seeing the gull, does not admire
That its bright wings to heaven may aspire,
And yet, it wastes its hours in the sea
Gorging on fishy sensuality?
The hoopoe builds its nest on heaps of dung,
Just as despair’s eyes view the world all wrong.
He paused then, at the thought of earthly sorrows,
Our sickly past, incarnadine tomorrows,
The myriad things that whistle arcane truth
To please old minds and to instruct raw youth,
And bore down on his broken knees to pray
For such a world that had so much to say.
—James Matthew Wilson