Friday, July 11, 2008


Breakfast on the front porch isn’t just a cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries, and a small plate of eggs – it’s also a bird-watching event. This morning two male cardinals, ruffling their fiery plumage, fought in the small wood before us. Intensely territorial, they squabbled noisily and finally, without any refereeing from us, flew up on the rooftop, then soared away, not liking the human witnesses to their two-round, no KO fight.

Cardinals appear to me as icons of my mother, who showed me my first picture of a cardinal in a large book of birds when I was five years old, naming the bird “red bird,” so I could articulate its name. The bright red bird with black mask and thick red beak symbolizes Dorothy to me, and in the introduction of THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL, my book about memorable Louisiana women, I wrote about her love of all things red: “she was buried in a dress with bright red buttons because she not only loved red, she lived red. Vivacious, garrulous, she was a woman who talked back to life situations that would have felled me long ago…”

Sometimes, the male cardinal comes to the window where I’m writing, both here in Tennessee and in Louisiana and flutters against the pane as if trying to enter my domain. I have, on many occasions, explained the disturbance as Dorothy (even if the bright red plumage denotes a male cardinal) trying to get in, her radiance piercing the mists of particularly gray days. In the Spring, she often comes and hides in the dogwood here at Sewanee, behaving in a modestly quiet way that is rather off-putting, and I salute her with poetry, one of which is included below, from JUST PASSING THROUGH, published by Border Press.


Mother comes in night dreams again,
never ceases to advise freedom,

pulling me towards flight
as she is now the red bird embodied,

continuing to sit, brazen-feathered creature
on a branch of dogwood

outside my bedroom window.

I remember when I was five,
a giant picture of the brilliant cardinal

in a linen cloth book of birds
she bought for me and loved to read.

She came alive by dying,
the red buttons on her funeral dress

addressing me silently:
be outrageous,

cultivate being the Self you are,
no man can subdue

the authentic power
of woman coming forth,

a transmogrified self.

Thumb your nose at domination,
even if you have to die…

to pass this on to your daughters.

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