We drew our light from her
Like a Pascal candle in a dark cathedral
that flickers at each lending and buds into yellow flame
again and again and again
Nobody in my family dies easy Though their spines may fail
like drouth roses
and the thrush mould
their blue fissured throats.
Their hearts just hammer louder.
Annoyed by all that rasping and rattling,
the doctors give their charts a once over And we…we just hover around their bed,
avoid each other’s glances,
watch their eyes tick-tock
under their lids,
and take turns
checking their pulse like
waiting on a late delivery.
When I was five maybe six
a neighbor’s hen got out.
It was a hot reservation day
paved roads like clotted lava.
She asked me to catch it I sped away, barefooted.
That big red hen was a scrambler
made choppy flights over pavement,
gravel alleys, rose gardens It took me all morning.
Welts on bantam arms and legs,
Blisters on my feet, hair soaking wet
a shiny quarter warm in my fist
confetti of scarlet feathers
As I flew home.
The woman next to me
dentures click at each word
as her head slides left to right
hammering out her story.
She talks about an owl
who nearly killed her toy poodle
swept down she says
in broad daylight, half past noon!
She scared him off with a broom
But this one’s “a cutie” she says
as she points to the pigmy owl
tethered to his perch “Just look at those adorable eyes!”
I kneel next to the tiny owl
impervious to me or the crowd
and do, noting how those yellow eyes
fluorescent as a scope, and pupils
have locked in their crosshairs
her grandson’s bobbing red balloon.
When the snow thawed
My daughter heard mewing,
Found them in a woodpile; gingerly stacked
Five in an apple box on the porch–
Their last concession to human touch.
At the height of summer, in the morning
I’d find their spoils on my steps-
Quail down, mouse-tails, sparrow skulls Evenings under the porch-light they’d hunt
Crickets, frogs, and elm beetles, then leap
Like flying squirrels, scramble screens for moths Late August the females turned sassy
Rubbed their haunches and quivering tails
Against any ankle, stone or tree,
Rolled in wet grass, with mouths open-pink,
Throats churning like percolators They could mock the wail of newborn babies
Kept us awake at night-
The hiss of Toms, their spray lacquering shrubs;
drifting in through the acrid windows.
Come October I’d had enough-slid
The squirming cage in the back of the truck When I hit the gravel and the cage rattled
I knew I couldn’t do it I saw them, without looking,
Crouched in the corner, blown up like puffer fish
The flash of their orange neon eyes in the dark.
Feral, It was not in their nature to be held,
But it was, evidently, in mine.