Like Emily Dickinson, Bray describes hope as thing with feathers, “an eastern phoebe.” Turning on sound and image, the poem “Bird on Knee” subtly shifts, inflecting new meaning. Each element nests in the other, layered, like a bird perched on a lap. Keening sounds repeat in “lightly,” “knee,” “eastern,” “phoebe,” and “me.” The density and sharpness in these lines imitates a bird’s piercing cry. Despite, or because of, this directness, the poem is gentle. “How I wish it had been me,” our speaker laments, “to receive a little sign.” Here the poem returns to nature imagery, guiding us through surprising symbols of this hope: “a field of grass, a clear horizon line.” These images are at once solid and changeable, apt choices for a subject both powerful and fleeting. Our speaker recognizes this transience, yearning for a “thrill just long enough.” “Bird on Knee” is all the more piercing for its tenderness and vulnerability. The poem captures, but does not cage, the sensation of longing for some small revelation.
—Erin Griffin Collum
Bird on Knee
by Tara Bray
There was a man who filmed
a wild bird perched lightly
on his knee, an eastern phoebe,
and how I wish it had been me
to receive a little sign
the tide might turn, shift.
Think my rod, my staff, the craft
of conjuring a little belief,
a field of grass, a clear horizon line.
Goodness is not the key,
but comfort and small things
that land softly, stun the breath,
let you have a thrill just long enough
where the knee quivers,
and a bird shifts accordingly.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.