Volunteers

Later that morning, after borrowing 
the neighbor's ladder to pluck an errant plant
         growing in a corner of the roof's 
front gutter— I decide to also clear 

the weeds tangling the mouth of the downspout.
                My other neighbor across the street
uses the word "volunteer" when she's talking
about plants that show up in her tidy

garden as if from nowhere. 
          A stand of curling fern, for instance—
which she didn't put in the soil herself.  
Or wildflowers she kept

                      because they were pretty,
and closer to the sidewalk's edge. I'm tempted
to ask if these plants know what 
they're volunteering for: you know, like many  

citizens in the community 
        who've signed up to be poll workers, even if
most of them are over the age of 60 and understand
they're in a group 

more susceptible to contracting COVID-19. Young
people too, properly masked, armed 
           with clipboards and flyers, going door 
to door, reminding people how important  

it is to register and vote in the coming 
elections. And the volunteers stocking community
food pantries, the school children fanning out
                    across public parks and beaches

to collect trash thoughtlessly tossed 
       by others in the bushes or on the trails—
This is where, often, someone finds small
animals: turtles, possums, seagulls,

herons, ducks, their heads caught in plastic
six-pack rings, legs wound
in plastic twine. As for migratory birds
                            that have been seen 

falling out of the skies across the south-
western states in the hundreds of thousands, 
        I don't think they freely offered to take
part in their own mass extinction. 
     
                      Between raging wildfires
and unseasonable cold snaps, how long 
did they reel through the sky until
they couldn't, until they hit

the ground, reduced to feathers and bones? When I
            find under the rosemary a bird's narrow skull
of mottled ivory, it's not so much the brittle 
hollows of its eye sockets or the wanting 

to know whether it was flycatcher, 
swallow, or warbler that comes over me  
              but that there's still a softness
in the hinge that used to work its bill.

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