Drawn to the spider plants in our bow window, a hermit thrush hit the glass and fell to the ground. We barely knew its name. A song sparrow, I suggested yesterday, spotting it on the suet feeder, fooled by the streaks on its breast. It’s too big you said

joining me at the window and taking my arm as it flew away. It jerks its tail like a wren, I wondered aloud, looking at the empty feeder,

but it’s not a wren. Today you nailed it, the definitive contrast of olive back and rusty tail, “our only thrush with the habit of slowly raising its tail several times a minute,” you read jotting the date in the margin, and—field guide in hand—you looked up

as the thrush flew into the glass with a thud.

I was playing guitar in the study, practicing major seventh chords in a series up the neck, and when I finished and walked upstairs you met me at the landing, almost in tears, holding the guide open in your hand.

Later, I turned the bird over with the blade of my shovel, admiring the greenish back with feathers folded in like braided hair, but smoother, seamlessly plaited. The body slumped

when I scooted the shovel under it, lifeless eyes lacking luster, but when I lifted it, the tail jerked once, so I carried the limp bird to the edge of the yard, setting it down behind a rock, and watched, hoping it was merely stunned.

The major seventh is the jewel in the crown of chords, the interval between the tonic that names it and the full seventh note above so wide that it nearly laps the scale, the sound seeming to swell. When I play a sequence up the neck, each chord evolves into the next in a pattern on the rosewood fretboard,

a sonorousness so smooth it blends with the silence around me

and lasts forever. The chords still echoed in my head when I returned to the woods’ edge later that evening and looked behind the rock hoping the thrush was gone. I didn’t see it at first in the overlay of twigs and leaves

and looked back at the window to alert you with a thumbs up, but you weren’t there. Only the spider plant, a cascade of horizonal lines and dangling clusters scribbled on glass that lured the thrush in a language I don’t understand. Who knows what it said? Safety, maybe, since the thrush likes to disappear in the branches of shrubs,

and vanish it did, I thought. It woke with a jerk of its tail in these leaves under the thicket of laurel and, startled into flight, floated like a chord into the silence above the woods. But no. Looking down again, I saw

the reddish tail hidden in a thatch of fallen limbs that spread across the wood’s floor and felt the purely human sorrow of naming

what I cannot save or know.

Steven Harvey is the author of The Beloved Republic, the winner of the Wandering Aengus Press Award. He is also the author of The Book of Knowledge and Wonder, a memoir about coming to terms with the suicide of his mother published by Ovenbird Books as part of the “Judith Kitchen Select” series. He has written three collections of personal essays—A Geometry of Lilies, Lost in Translation, and Bound for Shady Grove—and Folly Beach, a book-length personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity. He is a professor emeritus of English and creative writing at Young Harris College, a founding faculty member in the Ashland University MFA program in creative writing, a contributing editor for River Teeth magazine, and the creator of The Humble Essayist, a website designed to promote personal prose. He lives in the north Georgia mountains.

Artwork by Barbara Gillette Price