Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The House Finch

Laura Stamps

Now the dark wool of
nightfall scratches the
treeline, while the day’s
bluewash fades to a slick
seed in the sparrow’s
memory, its wings folding
for sleep. If it were mid-
summer, the whippoorwill
would snap its clacking
tune from maple to beech,
as crickets and frogs drum
the heat, a symphony of
sputter, splink, and ping.
Instead it’s Christmas week,
and the pinewoods putters
beneath a blanket of frost,
leaves ticking in the trees.

The year we adopted my adventurous
cat marked the last year for a Christmas
tree in our house. Reese’s collection
of antique horse ornaments with their
glorious silken tails and the froth of
buttons, lace, and ribbons embellishing
my handcrafted creations proved too
tempting. That first Christmas the
tree hit the floor almost every night,
scattering half the ornaments across
the living room by daybreak, many
chewed as if mistaken for kibble.
Reese mourned the absence of our
tree, even though he never participated
in holiday decorating. I missed it too,
but the next year I secretly enjoyed
one less chore to tackle in the midst
of the holiday frenzy. Now we keep
a basket for Christmas cards in the
kitchen, which the cats knock over
occasionally, mauling a few corners,
but no serious damage. I pile all
wrapped presents on top of a tall
bookcase, which shelters tantalizing
bows, paper, and ribbons from curious
paws and teeth. Eventually, Reese
took the tree to the store and created
a special Christmas tradition for
Dayflower. Rather than dressing the
tree with ornaments, Diane strings
ribbons through packages of organic
candies, snacks, and herbal gifts,
which dangle enticingly from its
branches. In November and December
the tree towers next to the cash
register, where customers choose
one free gift whenever they make
a purchase. Many come back again
and again to try new items hanging
from the tree. Naturally, this marketing
strategy increases sales during the
Christmas season, but also stimulates
yearly revenues by encouraging
customers to try new products, many
they continue to purchase long after
the holidays. Now, because of my
adventurous cat, our Christmas tree
blesses Dayflower and its customers,
as well as Reese and Diane, who like
to sneak a few snacks for themselves.

The scent of pinesap and gardenia
snaps the air today. I grow two
varieties of flowering bushes in
the garden: roses and gardenias.
My favorite, the haunting fragrance
of gardenia, sugars my soul every
time its slippered blossoms lick
the wind. My earliest scent
memory swirls around an orange-
blossom solid perfume a friend
brought back from Florida. Next,
my mother gave me lily of the valley,
which remained on my dresser
for years, its gold frosted bottle
containing a fragrance too green
to please. Later, I bought an
inexpensive bottle of gardenia
at the drugstore, the first spray
revealing a slice of that flower’s
sensory paradise, and it hooked me.
In high school, when bellbottom
jeans swept the floor, I wore
patchouli oil from the local health
food store, its woodsy fragrance
marking my trail as I walked from
class to class. Designer perfumes
drenched my college years, and
this expensive addiction continued
for a decade or two. At forty
I stopped wearing fragrance for
a year, no longer needing to bask
in spicy perfumes, even gardenia.
I emerged from this phase with
a craving for fruity body lotions,
which continues today. Apple,
pear, raspberry, tangerine, and
sweet pea seize me in a way that
cannot be explained. Mystified,
I’m now attracted to fruity green
scents, as if I might sprout roots
and limbs at any moment, clothing
myself in the crisp fragrance
of new leaves and sweet fruit.
Reese indulges my fragrance
passion by stocking several organic
brands of scented lotions and bath
gels at Dayflower. The week
before Christmas a large wrapped
basket always appears on top of
the bookcase, filled with sweet
lotions, soaps, and shower gels,
Reese’s latest fragrance finds
for my pleasure. He makes me
promise not to open this gift until
Christmas morning, no matter
how exotic the scents waffling
around it, tempting me with its
fruity treasures, like the sugared
blossoms of a gardenia waving
its white gloves at chilly bees.

It’s astonishing how the pinewoods
warms in the winter, broiling in shades
of marigold, mustard, and sienna, the
emerald palette of the summer as far
away as a diaphanous dream. Over-
night leaves appear to crinkle, relax
their fingers, and wigwag to the ground,
building fiery teepees on pine straw,
and skipping into the street at the whisper
of a breeze. This time last December
the faucets began to drip, and I called
Jimmy and John Allen, my handymen,
to rescue me. They fixed the faucets,
nailed loose shingles on the roof,
replaced a broken doorbell, and drilled
a peephole in the front door. Then
they spent a week painting the front
porches in freezing weather, paint drips
dangling from Jimmy’s eyelashes like
Christmas ornaments. Afterwards,
the porches gleamed white and gray,
with no stains remaining on the porch
upstairs from the house finch and her
nest. I still remember the day the finches
arrived in early May to construct a nest
on top of a column six feet from the
French doors. They worked for almost
a week, weaving a mossy nest from
weeds, pine straw, and garden ivy.
Then she sat in their little wreath, her
rosy mate delivering food and chatter,
while I watched from the door, hiding
behind the blinds several feet from
the nest. When the eggs hatched,
the chicks wobbled like woozy sea
travelers, peeping day and night for
food. The house finch and her mate
trekked tirelessly from the pinewoods
to the nest, gathering meals for their
noisy children. After a month the
chicks balanced on the lip of the nest,
whirling their wings, longing to taste
the wind-shake of flight. One by
one they disappeared, and though
I checked the nest many times I missed
each departure. The last chick lingered
alone for a few days, peeping sorrow-
fully, and then one morning I awoke
to an empty nest. The clamorous
melody of this family feathered my
world for two months, and their
departure painted a gloomy silence.
They’d flown not only from the nest
but also from my heart, both as empty
now as an abandoned clump of dried
twigs, and I missed their boisterous
songs. A few days later, while my
heart swung like a black stone in my
chest, I heard the chirp of the house
finch and ran upstairs to the door.
There they clustered on the roof
beside the porch: mother, father,
and three daughters. The family
remained for a time, shimmering in
the sun, chirping and fluffing feathers,
their final farewell. And then off
they sailed into the pinewoods, five
graceful messengers, their presence
etching the rest of the day with light.

* * * * *

As I look back upon the calico meadows
of this year, I find no words to describe
it. Four months ago my world turned
on its elbow when I glimpsed the
heavenly realm. Since then I’ve danced
toward a different horizon, as though
reborn in that single instant, thrust into
unknown territory, my worldly desires
replaced with the glory of heavenly goals.
How comforting to know through it
all I never walked alone, each step
accompanied by angels, saints, and
the soft voice of the Spirit guiding my
steps, steadying my pace. A new year
beckons next week, and the tremor of
a subtle shift in my career shakes me,
the ground shuffling beneath my feet
like sand glazing a beach at high tide.
I sense the heavenlies plan to reorganize
my art business in an exciting way;
meanwhile, I’m anxious to begin a
new series of angel paintings for my
solo exhibition at the Santa Fe gallery.
Miracles will surely occur as I craft
these pieces, peering into the spirit realm
to translate my visions into abstract
compositions, almost as if I were a tiny
house finch, leaping from the nest,
whirling my wings to the rhythm of first
flight. My course remains uncharted, as
I follow the voice of the Spirit, but I trust
I’ll land in the right place at the proper
time. At last I’ve become a child of the
divine: eternal, limitless, light-dazed.


Laura Stamps is an award-winning poet and novelist. Over six hundred of her poems, short stories, and poetry book reviews have appeared in literary journals, magazines, anthologies, and broadsides, including the Louisiana Review, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Poetry Midwest, Big City Lit, Poesy Magazine, American Writing, and the Chiron Review. The recipient of six Pushcart Award nominations, she is the author of thirty books and chapbooks of poetry and prose. Her latest collection of poetry, "The Year of the Cat" (Artemesia Publishing, 2005), has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. More information about books by Laura Stamps can be found at

© Laura Stamps

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012