Roofing Red Cedar

Early spring, the house finches
and the big-bodied thrush sat in the black pine,
raided coconut fibers in the window boxes,
nesting long before the hummingbirds
and the wrens showed up.

We would see them above the ridge beam
on the peak of the cabin,
complaining to the morning sun.
I never saw them go in,
although the panels of the roof
were all that divided
attic and the open sky:
the thing was never built to code,
or else the builder loved the high plains enough
to make it easy traffic
for field mice, wood rats, or wasps.

The birds left when the roofers came.
Two days of crowbars and compressors,
hammer blows on plywood sheets,
the old panels, dimpled by hail, peeled away.
The new ones put down.

You never like a stranger
as much as when he builds your house
or makes it warm or weather-tight,
mistaking commerce for care.
Or perhaps it is a kind of care —
there are other jobs.

What do you think? the foreman asked.
Looks good, I said.
I hope there weren’t too many mice.
They pulled fifty from the crawl space
when they put the heaters in.
No mice, he said. We found birds’ nests,
five or six. The guys just tossed them down.
Some of them had eggs.
He looked sideways. Shrugged.
The birds never would have come back anyway.
When they’re disturbed, he said.

He was a local, a long-time foothills man.
We knew that magpies attacked songbirds’ nests,
that cowbirds were brood parasites —
that even the wrens turn out
the hatchlings of other wrens.

But when we walked up the hill
to admire the job
from the neighbor’s wall,
the house gleamed like new coin
in the prairie grass and scrub,
as though it had never loved the land at all.

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