Posted by jdg | Thursday, August 20, 2009

When my wife works late we have a routine: After dinner we all pile on the bike and head down a tunnel of graffiti, under the streets, towards the 3+ miles of paved trails along the river. There is a 3-block section of no-man's land between the end of the sunken trail and the river itself, a former entertainment district leveled for casinos that were built elsewhere, then the proposed site of high-rise condominiums that stalled with the recession, now empty except for a few scattered ruins and machine shops.

We ride up a short hill paved with ancient bricks, intonations in front and behind me from kids who love the rumble of stones on their throats. A block and a half away sits the hulking ruin of the dry dock where seventeen-year-old Henry Ford took his first job as a machinist. We pass the latest homestead of a stubborn madman named Manuel who rebuilds his chaotic shelters and sculptural piles of junk on the same overgrown lot every time the city clears them away. We often pass him lugging bindles and murmuring after turning left and my daughter hushes her brother. This is where the pheasants live.

A male ring-necked pheasant came to our neighborhood this Spring, roosting itself in dense brush not far from our playground. We heard his call all day inside our house, every twenty minutes or so, for weeks. Hwok-hoo. Hwok-hoo. Every single time, my daughter turned to me and shouted, "Pheasant!" And my son would imitate the desperate cry. Then one day it stopped. The neighbors all waited, hopeful for his return, but speculating that he hadn't found enough females near, and moved on.

My daughter, from her perch on the back of the bike, always sees them first. We stop and watch "the jut of that odd, dark head/ pacing through the uncut grass." There is an empty lot among blocks of emptiness, down along the river, where water collects and it seems a dozen pheasants cross and recross like that impossible hill in Sylvia Plath's poem. Yesterday my wife came home early with a migraine, and by evening she was ready for fresh air, so she came with us, seeing this place for the first time. Four hens scurried away, followed by many babies, clucking and peeping into the protective brush. We stopped by a pothole you could hide several bodies in, watching these birds silent and amazed.

Every night, I read my daughter three poems. The first two are always my choice, but she always insists I end with Pheasant. I do not mind. There is that moment when you surprise a pheasant, or when you get too close for his comfort, and he stuns you with his departure. Plath writes, "It unclaps, brown as a leaf, and loud. . ." and that is perfect.

The sun sets on our empty lot early; it sits in the shadow of the city's tallest building, the slowly-emptying corporate headquarters of General Motors. All summer we have watched these multiplying birds on our way to the river and on our way home, but the sun sets earlier every night. Last night, on our way home, the sun was hiding behind the towers and the birds were already gone, in the dense shrubs: safe and warm, unhunted and unseen.