The News & Observer  

Published: Jun 20, 2004
Modified: Jun 20, 2004 6:41 AM
Birds and Fishes

PAUL JONES, who did the first part of his growing up in Charlotte, was selected 'Best Geek in the Triangle' by the Independent in 2003. A distinguished member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists, he has often been mistaken for the composer Yanni. A graduate of N.C. State and of Warren Wilson College -- where he studied computer science and literature -- Jones is the director of (The Public's Library) and on the faculty at UNC. Jones is author of the chapbook 'What the Welsh and Chinese Have In Common.' Jones is blessed to live with the lovely and talented Sally Greene, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, and Tucker Jones, a future cell biologist and Lego master.

W hether I'm thinking of the fifth day of Creation or the third Sunday in June, I want to celebrate my father, who loves both birds and fishes having kept both as pets at various times -- not salmon nor vultures -- and to celebrate other fathers -- the Creator and the bardic poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. All three inspired this poem in various ways. As a Trinitarian, I appreciate all three and thank them each.

Because the world is willing
to forget what has crossed it,
the cold sea calls back salmon;
rocks glisten with their trying
to reach the potbellied moon;
we hear the tune of what will come,
the song humming near us yet.

The trees empty save one bird,
its head bare and raw as meat,
its dark wings held shoulder high.
Cold talk forged of cold words
would shield us, keep us behind
the brush jumble of our blind
while we watch the vulture eat.

Father, see the waters fold
as the stream unbraids, unwinds
having had its fill of loss.
Like a sail windblown to full,
this stream is set for the coast
where salmon leap and leave us.
We will never be their kind.

Birds and fishes came into the world
before Eden, before death;
so we pity these monsters
caught up in the current's swirl
Water or air. They dance stairs
over rapids, rushes and stirs;
action is their name for faith.

Our faith comes in reflection:
the clear mirrors of new ice
freezing all but the most swift;
the slowest held as if stunned
as if their rest were a gift;
the faster leap high as if
they could escape cold's malice.

What is here is without song
for them, from them. No vulture
celebrates the salmon feast
nor pauses to think it wrong;
what is offered and what pleases
draws the river to the sea.
What prayer could be that pure?

Our prayers start singing slow:
water seeping through the marsh,
the low rumble of the soil
settling in new furrows,
ice bridging the current's coil.
All that seemed impossible
sings as winter's wind turns harsh.

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