Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Woman Waking Early in Late Fall

To meet the sun still wading through a dream
keeps her teetering between two worlds,
wearing the dream a while like a wig of flame.
Starlings, startled from their roost, retain
the bell-shape of the tree in flits and whorls,
then scatter on a field ice-paned from rain.
The dream dissolves. There is no thing itself.
The day increases even if starling-wheezes
remind her of the labored breathing he,
the one she dreamed, could not bear in the end—
her father’s famished body on the bed,
a gnarled and desiccated specimen.

The wind shifts northward and fresh gusts efface
the tree, a sweetgum, leaving nothing left
but scab-black spikes the starlings won’t refuse.
What can the sweetgum do now but accept
the murmuration tearing at its limbs
that tremble as the starlings scare and lift,
riding the same updrafts a sharp-shinned climbs?
What can she do but trace the starlings’ flight
from hawk-shadow, each dive and plaintive sweep
through fog wisps thin as nebulizer mist—
these birds her father taught her how to name
before she learned to read. The starlings zeep.

Clutching one of their hundreds in its grip,
the hawk becomes all sharp-shinned hawks at once,
a myth of itself, stropping the cluttered sky.
Bringer of flurry-blurs and songbird slaughter,
the hawk scales altitudes on hidden rope
hung from the ozone’s stratospheric rafter
in flight both circuit and circumference.
It blusters off to scarf its steaming meal,
a farther figure getting smaller faster,
appearing as a discrepancy of air,
a floater on a lens. Cloud-shadows blend.
Is this the season of before or after?

On that last night her father found his speech,
an RN held a phone up to his ear—
she heard it knock against the bed’s side-rail
as he hacked and gnashed his teeth repeating, “Who?”
The starlings shriek in sharp-shinned counterfeit.
A fallen feather trembles at her feet.
One letter more than father, further still
from faith, the feather gleams with oily greens
on ground too frost-shocked to admit it yet.
With autumn’s insect chitters silenced now,
the sweetgum dreams the starlings back to fret
from bough to bough and crowd its vacant crown
with appetite, the sweetgum’s winter fruit.  

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