Grebe in the Surf

Brown foam nearly covered the bird
washed up during the storm. Out here
walking the dogs in that light that hangs
in the air between squalls, we’d left
our field guides on the table at home.
A grebe, perhaps, surf had battered
its black and white feathers ragged.
One red eye followed us as we stood over it
and asked each other what to do
as the dogs whined and strained
at the ends of their leashes beside us.

I want to say we took it in our hands,
washed the sand from its wounded wing,
carried it in my coat to our rented cabin,
dried its feathers by a fire, and watched it heal,
paddling back and forth in the bear-claw tub.
I want to tell you it grew strong from herring
we bought for it from the market up the street.

But I thought of the landlord, the barking dogs,
the smell of an injured wild animal –
and really, what could we do for a broken bird
in just the days we had left here at the beach?
Let’s go, I said, and we walked on.
Hours later, we passed that place again.
The tide was out and the bird was gone.