My father caught finches when he was a child.
In the wild afternoons of winter, he put lime
And a decoy finch on the branches of nearly-naked
Trees. There was no danger in it or anything like that.
Just the lime, the trees in the winter cold,
The branches still and empty
Under a sky of impending snow.
He said he once saw goldfish in a pool
Near the Taj Mahal, when he was only five.
He told me that when he was already old.
There seemed no reason to doubt him,
Just as when he said he delivered the post
On Christmas Day, 1937, bringing letters
From Coventry, like white stars
Out of a darkening sky.
Once he said he saw a burial at sea,
Somewhere south of the Bay of Biscay.
I can imagine the brown makeshift box
Sliding between the rails of the unsteady ship,
The held candles not lighting in the wind
The afternoon light swinging like a silver stethoscope
In eveyone’s faces, my father held up to see it,
In someone else’s arms.
It is always winter when I remember my father
And the Christmas he was born, long before
He told me how he trapped the unsuspecting finches
As they came in like small aeroplanes to land
On the innocent-looking lime.
I never suspected then how much he loved me.
But it is the finches I most remember
This last December of the century,
And my father, barely eight, in the Christmas
Of 1914, when the sky was like a white handkerchief
With soon-to-fall snow. That was the War
When they declared a truce for a day.
Everyone ate turkey. And troops
Stopped going to Heaven, like misdelivered letters,
Or stars falling the wrong way around.