If I Return

NFL pennants encircle the upper walls of the barbershop I patronize. Mirrors
behind the barbers’ chairs double the effect. The banter is almost always about sports. The
barbers and many of their customers know “who’s on first, what’s on second,” the
genealogies and career histories of NFL players and coaches, present and past.

I have few opinions about sports. So imagine my surprise when I discovered my
barber is a bird person. I don’t remember how the subject came up, but I mentioned the
bird feeders hanging in my backyard.

It turned out, he has more feeders than I, more different kinds of feeders, and a
birdbath. Plus, he feeds squirrels on his small patio, as I do. I told him the red-headed
breed of hummingbirds is named Anna.

He said, “Yes, that’s my mother’s name and my girlfriend’s name. It’s the only kind
of hummingbird we have here in the Valley.” When I told him I had seen other species of
hummingbirds, he was doubtful.

He said songbirds attack hummingbirds to feed from the hummingbird feeders.
I asked if he had seen songbirds attack a hummingbird. My story about seeing an albino
sparrow in my back yard impressed him

He brushed the hair from my collar and removed the smock protecting my clothing.
As I stood and reached for my hearing aids and glasses, a thought struck me. I have on my
website two poems about birds. He has no computer, so I offered him my phone with an
invitation to read the poem, “If I Return.”

The poem begins with when, not if. “When I die, if I return.” To some, that might
sound like reincarnation, when the soul or spirit returns after death in a new person or
some other creature. I cling to the hope the reader doesn’t reverse the order of the two
words. Death has no “if.” The returning—that’s the “if.”

The second section of the poem focuses on how tough life is for a bird, facing
dangers from weather and predators. How they die unnoticed except perhaps by God.

The third section of the poem pictures the life of a bird as if the sky were an ocean
where a bird can surf, sail, and ride the winds. The poem finally repeats the opening idea.