Red Is The Number Of My Heart

photo of a small bird perching on the cattail
-- after Lorette C. Luzajic’s collage “Bye, Bye Blackbird” (2018)

Before yellow dawn, with gargling song
and solemn garb, red-winged blackbird
perches in the marsh above a pond of red.
Upon his wing he flaunts sun and heart
colors. Forty-seven is his harem number
of streaky, hidden concubines. Song sparrow

listens to blackbird recount his sorrow,
enumerated in the notes of a song.
Black, red and upside-down, lost numbers
frame his world, while blackbird
becomes their sum as he plies his art.
Notes hang in air like prayer beads—a red

veil at the edge of day—that cannot be read.
The secret is held safe by song sparrow,
perched upon a scarlet suit of hearts.
He murmurs a shadowed sparrow song—
a hymn of consolation for blackbird—
washed in stains of yellow-umber.

Neither bird finds strangeness in numbers
and letters floating in wet fields of red
that boil below. Impatient for dawn, blackbird
calls night’s bluff, plays the heartfelt sparrow
card—a symphony of dissonance and song.
Sparrow’s bright eye, the ace of hearts

outplays the prone and lesser king. All hearts
beat with a passing sigh and faded numbers.
In the mist, the lost words to their songs
rattle among the cattails, unread.
But sharp notes fly straight as an arrow,
fletched with feathers of some brighter bird,
aimed at the break of day. The somber black bird

stands like a priest, praying over the bloody heart
of the matter. Whispering more notes, sparrow
tosses one over his shoulder. The numbers
of their days hang in looping strands, curtains of red
drape above their mingled dawn psalms.

Blackbird and sparrow place a sacrifice—
their hearts’ numbers—upon the altar of the sun
in songs of yellow, black and red.

Janet Ruth

Janet Ruth is a New Mexico ornithologist. Her writing focuses on connections to the natural world. She has recent poems in Unlost, Fixed and Free Quarterly, Under the Bashō, Tulip Tree Review, The Ocotillo Review, Ekphrastic Review, and anthologies including Unknotting the Line: the Poetry in Prose (Dos Gatos Press, 2023) and Where Flowers Bloom (The Red Penguin Collection, 2022). Her first book, Feathered Dreams: celebrating birds in poems, stories & images (Mercury HeartLink, 2018) was a Finalist for the 2018 NM/AZ Book Awards.