It Startles

It startles.

The flash of blood red at his throat.

A heartbeat to observe him

hover over coral honeysuckle

before his emerald iridescence

zips away.

I might have questioned the visit

but for the flash of blood red at his throat.

Within the privacy of garden flowers,

within the industrious world of  buzz and busyness

I, a visitor, not required to contribute,

I settle into stillness.

Nor would I know how, if asked.

How to help spider weave

her lacy web from leaf to leaf?

How to help ant discover what he seeks

as he zig-zags across dirt mounds?

How to assist corpulent bumble bee

harvest golden dust on his barbed feet

helicoptering his heist

blossom to blossom?

Surely the birds have no need of me

as they sing their evening meal song

and only chide me for inviting cat into the garden.

Here is a world which makes no request of me

while offering its goodness without reserve.

My delight in its offerings does not fuel its mission.

I am under no obligation to applaud, appreciate or assist.

I, who strive for significance, meaning, purpose.

Here, I am nothing.

Superfluous, extraneous, optional.

It startles

like the flash of blood red at his throat.

I’m one heartbeat away

from understanding.



Yesterday Rob hung the bird photos he gave me for Christmas. From over my desk, they look at me as I journal. Birds are self-contained and not in need of relationship with me.  But I wish to be in relationship to them. Even in images, this goldfinch and chickadee please my heart. The goldfinch is bathing in a puddle. The chickadee on a branch looks straight into the camera. He looks curious, unafraid. A stark black triangle of feathers on his face from beak to neck. His black cap for which he is named, like a yarmulke on his head, contrasting white patches on his face that look like cheeks.

Yesterday, the Northern Flicker, perched and imperial on the bird feeder hanging outside our bedroom window. Skittish too, scanning the sky for hawks between each tap tap tap of his pointed beak, digging into the packed seed. The diminutive nuthatch looking to join him. All jumpy persistence ~ there must be an angle ~ an inch where the Flicker isn’t. Hop hop hop up and down on the iron pole. To the top. The back. To the opposite side of the Flicker. Finally, to the bottom of the suet, upside down, a quick seed grab and then safe flight!

From my perspective, it looked quite brave. Flicker’s long, sturdy two inch long beak looks like a jackhammer compared to the delicate lines of nuthatch. It may be there is some unspoken code of kindness, or if not kindness, at least tolerance among birds.

The Cardinals and the juncos are not interested in food hanging twenty feet high from a pole in the air. They are ground feeders ~ with the Cardinal more skittish and apt to flee at the first sound ~ while the juncos will startle, but hold out for a moment or two to assess real danger. But Cardinals are devoted. In pairs of male and female. When I see one on the deck feeding, I will find the partner in the holly bush, on guard, prepared to sound the alarm.

What do the new agers say it means when you see a cardinal? That a deceased loved one is saying hello? What if it actually means…you’ve just seen a Cardinal? What if it doesn’t have to be a sign? What if it’s only a “sign” that this Universe is a playground of visible miracles not improved by a reframe? What if?

Yet I don’t begrudge people their comfort. I, too, have said, “Hello Jeannie,” upon seeing the bold red of an unexpected Cardinal. I, too, have smiled fondly and recalled her beauty as I looked at his. Linked the two in my mind and heart so both represent each other now like images in my soul book spilling one into another. And where’s the harm in that?

Unless. Unless…the Cardinal has so much more to offer me, and I cannot know or feel it because I am stopped by my story. If I look at a Cardinal, but see only the past, instead of how the crest on his head rises in protection of his tri-colored mate. Instead of the orange of his beak, and how magnificent he is, solitary, on a bare beech tree among the pines. If I miss being curious about him how can I ever learn that he is a Northern Cardinal. Cardinalis. Named after the red robes worn by Catholic cardinals ~ an aggressive bird but accomplished songster  who sings all year round rather than only in the spring.

And should I ever find a Cardinal nest, it will have 3 or 4 pale green eggs spotted with red-brown in a deep cup of twigs, leaves and plant fibers concealed in a thicket. Which feels more possible, that I might find that nest, when I pay attention to the Cardinals mating behavior in my yard, and less possible when I reduce them into a simplistic, symbolic reduction of a Hallmark greeting card message from Heaven. I want to be of this miracle earth. Under this miracle sky.


Hearts Filled With Diamonds

Maggie holding the sun pic


Your heart is filled with diamonds.

Nothing you’ve ever lived

has stolen the light.

Take them out.

Place them in the palm of your hand~

these love remnants.

Each the distilled

essence of a true and finished chapter.

The lovely…the anguished…

all beautiful now.

Your living left behind these gifts.

Each, a diamond you may hold

with open palm.

No heat to burn through skin.

No clinging to grasp what will not stay.

Raise them to the sun to capture their faceted colors.

Look closely with the magnification of a jeweler’s loop

to peer deep inside, acknowledging the carbon flaws.

Hold them out for others to see,

unconcerned as to whether they will declare them

coal or gemstone.

Each represents the left behind treasure

of a true and finished chapter of your singular life.

Some moments more attractive than others,

but all yours to claim.

They are the chapters that have been written, read,

ripped out of the book

and tossed like yesterday’s newspapers

now crinkled against the curbstone.

Yet nothing essential has been lost.

Your heart is filled with diamonds.

They are your light to keep.

Kathy MacDonald


Rob's autumn

Through the kitchen window
I see leaves  releasing their grip,
dancing to the ground
in a senseless tumbling
of nonchalance.
And I might regret their passing
but for the way it opens up the November sky.
Solitary wispy clouds
drift across a blue as pale as tears,
and sunshine spotlights
the few remaining golden leaves
of oak and maple
 clinging to their stems.
And not only the sky opens up,
but the trees themselves
reveal tiny birds’ nests
vacant since spring.
The fallen leaves, in rust and bronze,
are lovely still
splashed across a green grass canvas.
Inside, on the kitchen window sill
sits a sapphire blue pitcher
filled with autumn vines of bittersweet.
Branches offering berries ~ crimson, copper, gold.
 I love her name.
Her willingness to speak the truth.
“With every birth, comes some new grief.
With every death comes some delight.”
Kathy MacDonald


We must be clear about the risks.

There are people who imprint our hearts

like a rancher’s fire-heated brand cuts into flesh.

Accept your heart’s identifying marks ~

each beautiful, complicated, complex soul

who “branded” you with or without permission.

It is irreversible.

If death, or distance, or irreconcilable differences separate,

the absence becomes the joint damage from an old accident ~

not correctable by surgery, not erased by medication, not restrictive enough to keep us from being ambulatory.

But enough to make pain free walking a thing of our past.

We don’t speak enough of this Universal grief.

Watch toddlers who wail when a parent disappears.

They speak the heart’s language openly: inconsolable,

until they are taught to use distractions, a different toy, a sweeter cookie ~

to mute a grief that makes us uncomfortable.

“Missing” is not an optional “add-on” to a human life.

There ought to be places, besides country songs

to hold the unquenchable longing thirst to see again

a face that has disappeared from view.

A Hundred Years Old at Forty-Five

 This was written for my cousin, Jean, who passed from breast cancer 6 years ago today. She is still a light in my life.Jeannie Jeannie 2

A Hundred Years Old at Forty-Five


A hundred years old at forty-five,

she holds her purse across a crooked elbow

and with mincing steps along the pavement

moves her bony frame to my Subaru.

Once in, adjusts her turban down over her ears,

to cover wisps of hair that remain at the nape of her neck.


Will she be buried in the turban

or a wig, I wonder?

How to ask her preferences.


“Put your seat belt on”, I say

in response to the ding, ding, ding of the warning bell.

“Oh, I can’t”, she says, “it hits the tumor in the breast and it hurts.”


“The” breast.

Not “my” breast.


I’m wrecked.

I want to pound the steering wheel with my fists

until I’ve shattered the bones in my hands.


Does God understand how precious this one was at three?

With corkscrew curls and sky-blue eyes?

This fatherless girl?

This childless woman?


Might God not have looked the other way when parceling out the cancer?

But which way?

My way?


We ignore the ding, ding, ding

on the twenty minute ride to her house

and chat about her car troubles

which is why I’ve been called to drive her home.


Lifting her arm to open the passenger door,

she winces, reaches for her belongings

and shushes me away

before I can help her into her house.

I gather her to me anyway.

Not on the driveway

but in the poem.



Kathy MacDonald

August, 2008





Butterflies Do Not Glance Backwards

Monarch Butterfly

Butterflies do not glance backwards.

Is butterfly obliged to remind herself and others

that her present day beauty is somehow diminished

by her former day unsightliness?

 Is she any less beautiful or gifted because of it?

What difference does it make that she was not beautiful at inception,

but rather beautiful through deception?

The hiding off of herself,

and then, a very private transmutation, to arrive

fully equipped for flight.

If she has a memory of her caterpillar days,

surely as she is about flower business and the whispering of the air ~

surely she does not linger there?

She has earned her right to claim herself beautiful

in the only time that is real, if any time is real.


 She is entitled to let the light dance on her wings.

She is caterpillar no more.

She will die, a butterfly.