Learning from the Swallow

Image courtesy of  www.stevegettle.com

A good part of my childhood was spent in my grandmother’s village, where I grew up believing that the mud nests the swallows built under our eaves brought us good luck. More swallow nests meant better luck. I remember the joy when yet another swallow family would choose to raise its young under my grandmother’s roof.

The swallow was an almost totemic animal for me—a swift, hard-working, cheerful bird, the harbinger of spring. Basically, everything I wasn’t (but wished to be). Over the years, as I moved away from the village to increasingly bigger cities, I saw swallows less often and began to forget their importance.

But just the other day, while walking through a Swiss vineyard, where cheerful birds chased a slow cloud of midges, I glimpsed the tell-tale red flash of a swallow’s neck. I squinted into the sun—and sure enough, there it was, that thing with feathers from my childhood, its forked tail scissoring the air above me. Another moment of blissful abandon and it was gone, leaving me doubled over with longing.

It felt like home, that quick encounter, a home I can only go back to in my memory, because the people and places that made it meaningful once are only alive in my mind—and in my heart, which misses them, deeply. I went back to my new, likely temporary, home and listened to swallow sounds on YouTube, the chirps, whirrs, and warbles filling me with even more longing. I reread the Romanian fairytale I used to love as a child, the one about the girl Randunica who turns into a swallow. I looked at my grandmother’s pictures. I mourned.

Then I started writing this piece. A walk down memory lane, yes. But also an acknowledgement that our past is firmly ensconced within us, a mud-and-straw nest the swallows of our soul rebuild each spring.

*   *   *

Swallow identification
“I meditate upon a swallow’s flight”
(W. B. Yeats)

My life—
the nest of the swallow that left
in late fall, burdened
by our sorrows.
My life—
a wickerwork of clay and branches,
white flowers
quivering in the mud.
The shadow of a wing
fallen upon the house.

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