Requiem for a Small Black Bird


I lay you to rest, little one, your

body rigid, stilled, and so alone,

at the base of an old maple tree;

cover you with fallen twigs and leaves;

simple nest to shelter your returning to the

elements of earth and air.

kyrie eleison


I have no words to speak; simply

mark the spot with mottled rock;

breezes hum above, a wordless litany to

close your too-short life.

kyrie eleison


I knew you only in your death;

dark mystery laid out at dusk on our cold

deck, tiny feet clutching the air,

feathers shrouded black around your

fragile bones, wren-like beak sealed

tight against the whistle of the wind.

Such dignity in your demise, your

moon-white breast so still;

such fearsome beauty shining

bold, shining proud against the

emptiness of death…

kyrie eleison


…a shining that has brushed

across the calloused ridges of my

soul, awakened me (how easily I

fall asleep!) to cherish every

fleeting wonder of this life, every

marvel wrapped in wingèd joy,

before it, too, is laid to rest beneath an

old maple tree, leaving me to

ponder mysteries of hope that

lie so close, and yet so far beyond the

final shelters that we weave with all our

fallen twigs and leaves.

Farewell, little one.

kyrie eleison

6 thoughts on “Requiem for a Small Black Bird

  1. I wish I had had this poignant poem when I discovered a dead female downy woodpecker in my front yard in May. It was so beautiful, I was certain that it was just sleeping and would at any moment take wing. I got out my Book of Common Prayer, a garden tool and dug a grave for her under the peonies. I said the liturgy for the dead and sang, “All Creatures Great and Small.” Over the years, I’ve discovered other dead birds in my yard, but there was something about the “dignity” in this demise that gave me pause. I had to honor the beauty and brevity of her life — and somehow my own — by taking time to pay prayerful homage. I have printed up your poem and will recite it the next time I discover a feathered friend who has left this sweet world.

    I hope it’s not inappropriate that this poem reminded me of Brittany Maynard — terminally ill with a brain tumor — and her decision to end her life over the weekend. There is something about Brittany that I can’t shake — perhaps her courage to embrace the mystery on her own terms. Fly home, sweet girl. Farewell, little one. Rest in peace.

  2. Strange, isn’t it, how the death of these little ones moves us so profoundly. Connects us with the mystery of life and death, with all the dignity and beauty that we (at least I) so often miss or take for granted. Rest in peace to all who have left us to ponder life and death in all its beauty and sadness.

  3. Thank you once again for your heart-felt and heart-moving meditations. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.” It is good to be reminded not only of our mortality, but also of our beauty and dignity.

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