Swifts John Brehm For my father Early fall, the light thin and brittle, and if it’s true that deprivation is a gift, I accept the gift. I walk down to Wallace Park to watch the swifts that roost every September in the Chapman School’s tall brick chimney. The charming swifts with their long, forked tails and swept-back wings, ten thousand of them swerving and darting in the evening sky, a flowing, expandable spiral of birds, clearing the air of insects and riveting the wandering human mind. Tonight there must be three hundred spectators, a whole hillside of us, ordinary people whose wings fell off eons ago, who traded flight for speech and have regretted it ever since, sodden and earthbound as we are, except for our lifted eyes, our oohs and ahs that show we’re still alive when the peregrine falcon dives in and knifes one out of the air, which we boo or cheer, sometimes simultaneously. We love this passion play of form and formlessness, the birds’ shifting patterns flung out like a whiplash of water or school of fish above the stationary human school, then drawn tight together, a miracle they don’t crash into each other, a miracle of echolocation, until you see them as they truly are: a single organism, a body made mostly of air and quick decisions, jagged motions that gradually cohere— a poem, in other words. It takes the flock a full twenty minutes to funnel down into the chimney, and it seems a living smoke pulled back into a still and sleeping fire, so beautiful I forget for a moment my father’s death, or I turn my mind away from it or, no, I open my grief to accommodate this wonder and wonder what he might have thought of it, were we standing here together, the kind of thing we never did, and now will never do, except in my imagination— that unchanging inner sky where the swifts take flight whenever I want them to and my father cannot die. John Brehm is the author of two books of poems, Sea of Faith and Help Is on the Way, which has an invisible subtitle: But It Will Not Arrive. Both are from the University of Wisconsin Press. He lives in Portland, Oregon. His nearly completed new book is called Big Talk, Small Talk. For more about John, go to www.johnbrehm.net. “Swifts” appears in our Winter 2013 issue.