The baby cardinal was meant to fly
but left the nest too soon,
a warm pink stone
dropped beyond the saving shadow.
Was it impatience,
the force of genes,
an instinct out of line
that caused the bird to reach
for what was still beyond its reach,
to twist, break through, and fall?
Maybe it was hunger, bad luck,
a fertile wind;
no matter, what’s done is done.

Weighing the ways of bird and human,
we watched the mother
recognize the loss,
then chose to do the only thing to do:
hollering like mad crows,
unsure of placing wing among twig,
we scooped the soiled thing
back up to the unsettled nest
and ran.

But what if it were mine?
What if it were mine found gone
from instinct, code or chosen flight,
and all that could be done was watch
the intervention of some great vast bird,
alien beyond all knowing,
swoop down
with rigid beak and claw
and do what it would do,
no common language
to interpret thanks among species
except to take the child back,
the way sometimes a cardinal does
when human hands attend

Stan Lee Werlin’s short stories have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Review, Sheepshead Review, Prime Number, Glassworks, Soundings East, and Saranac Review. His humorous children’s poetry has been published in numerous children’s magazines and anthologies. He holds a BA from Harvard and an MBA from The Wharton School. Reach him on Twitter @natsnilrew.