after Stephen Dunn & Ada Limon
I don’t have children – and won’t –
nor blue herons or red-winged blackbirds
to show them while reflecting on refuge
or the fortunate omens poets ascribe to birds,
walking along roads and in marshlands,
living their bird lives, not intending
to represent anything. All I’ve got is that
bald eagle you and I saw in the Black Hills,
high up in the sky above an electrical line.
Flying like any bird flies. There, you said,
pointing out the window, touching my hand,
can you see it? I could barely make it out,
but I told you I could, because your eyes
were shining like they hadn’t in months,
because I didn’t have it in me to deny you
sharing this joy. After the eagle disappeared
we looked out at the trees a long time,
like everything was different now,
like such a rare sighting could be taken
as a blessing, a good sign: the bird world
telling us to keep fighting, try again.
The worst one came late, in October. Hours before landfall,
she pointed at the readying sky and said look, all the birds
are gone, they know what’s coming. When the wind picked up
we watched the trees bend with a morbid fascination;
we hadn’t yet seen the Rockaway boardwalks destroyed
by gale force, the contents of drowned basements spat out
onto the sidewalks of Brooklyn, climbing with dark mold.
Inside we were safe: making dinner, playing music, ignoring
yesterday’s argument. I lit candles. In the flickering light,
the water stain on the ceiling appeared to be growing.
In the middle of the night she got scared, called her brother
across town, decided to weather it in his basement. I’m not
going, I said, one of us should stay, make sure everything’s okay.
The rain kept coming as we stared, wordless, intractable,
as she picked up her keys and walked out into the howling.
Alone, I lay back in our bed and thought about birds,
wished I knew what they did: how to sense when the air
presses in exactly too much, when to fly ahead of the storm.
Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and massage therapist. Her work appears or is forthcoming at the Academy of American Poets, Bone & Ink Press, Cotton Xenomorph, Glassworks Magazine, Longleaf Review and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans, where she is pursuing her MFA in poetry.