* * *
Starlings circling for days
peck at grass seed, lift to branches, skirting
limbs to eaves and back again, fluttering
jumpy, these birds, my legs one week after surgery.
I am told it is normal. Anesthesia can take days to leave the body.
It is metabolic restoration. I am warming up, but there is rash on my back,
possibly a reaction to bandage adhesive. I try aloe and calamine.
I smell like garlic and old candy. I am anxious, but today,
a hawk perches on a snag, the bare tree
decomposing upright in my backyard. It can stand like this for years.
Each stage of decay is useful: loose bark, a roost for bats; soft wood,
easy holes for beetle eggs; larvae, food for woodpeckers
and where the tree breaks at the top, a landing for birds of prey.
I stand at the sink. She stays.
I can’t let go. I am not strong enough yet. To balance,
to see her talons, I need both hands and binoculars.
For now, I grip the walker, pull my body into it, wait,
lift it a few inches, set it down in front of me, pull
my body into it again, and again, and again,
until the little cage that moves me is next to the sofa.
I sigh, lower my body down. She flies over the roof, lands on a pole.
I want her to dive
top speed, deadly raptor aiming, an angel
striking my hip, stunning my body.
It is not normal to wish for a hawk like this, but it’s been a week.
Hot welts are crawling toward my neck, a reaction
to adhesive, or in rare cases, pain killers. I want to laugh at the irony,
but my legs are shaking. I want to sleep. I want pink antihistamines to morph
into bees, every sting saving my life. I will call this normal.
I will call her, my hawk. She will quiet the starlings,
squeeze and subdue, pluck and eat clean to the bone,
clear to the metal, my hip, shining, waiting to swagger.
* * *
A Wire to Lift
We called it “bird heaven,” the meadow stitched with dandelions,
yellow discs threaded to stems, taproots reaching into graves dug for starlings,
as if we understood something about dust returning to dust.
We were children in a three-bedroom rambler, a ranch on one acre
belonging to our family: raspberry bushes, wood lilies, grass,
white oaks, jack pines, red maples, Russian olive trees,
vegetable garden, dog house, patio, garage, driveway.
A wire fence drew the line between what was ours
and what belonged to our neighbor: corn field and forest,
but we were country kids, no trespassing meant not us.
We held the cable between the barbs
for each other. We crawled on our bellies,
dirt caking our palms, smearing our jackets, hardly ever ripping.
Running through stalks, leaf blades cut our cheeks.
It only hurt for a minute. It was worth it.
After the corn, we paused to tuck our pants into our socks
for the real danger, ticks in the high grass, “bird heaven.”
We braved that meadow, because at its edge, two oaks leaned on each other,
welcoming, inviting us into the woods.
No Trespassing. Not Us. We were a pack running
unsupervised, except for Duke, who only had to perk his ears,
gaze into the distance or sniff the ground to find us.
Our parents had to leave the country, so we followed.
In suburbs, college towns and cities, we tried
claiming territories—this is the dorm of my politics,
flat screen of my opinion, eleventh floor, my ambitions—
but we lost each other.
We needed to be pushed out, to remember
a fence was only a wire to lift, how it felt
to hold fragile bones, where the sky was under our feet.
* * *
The Pelican and The Girl
____I.________Fear how she holds you
close to the wishing bone,
downy warm against a heart she is willing
to pierce, to bleed for you, her baby, hers.
You should feel safe. Her wings extend to seven feet.
She can soar up to ten thousand, cover ninety miles, or fly low
in the space between wings and water
but not quite
holding a twenty-pound bird.
Under her ponderous shadow, shoals of mullet rise bewildered.
It is only a few wing strokes for her to reach sixty feet and plunge
head first into salt. No matter the impact. She angles like no other.
No matter the water. Her pouch can hold gallons, drain it out easy
to swallow fish whole, or offer one to you, her baby, hers.
She is, you are, that fish- all tender meat reeling
in the Gulf of Mexico, looping with the currents, the ships back and forth,
nervous, how she feels to survive she must keep going.
Her heart must pump (like yours, like yours) even
as the rigs stacking the drill pipes, one after another,
penetrate the sea bed and shake the foundation
where she keeps her salt, domes of it in her bones.
Does she wish it were still a secret, like it was before
the first man made a road of oyster shells, before all of this pounding?
Even as science wipes the slick, governments clench
fists, thump tables, tongues wagging, year after year, after every spill.
You wonder how to punch back without breaking,
if breaking is a necessary thing for healing.
She croaks low and pops her beak. You think you hear her.
You think there is no doubt. Anxiety tastes like gasoline.
____II.________Fear she does not hold you,
curled up inside, body of a bird.
You are buckled to your seat,
belted, helpless through turbulent sky.
She is flying.
You are on your knees on a train,
pleading as it climbs ten thousand feet.
She is swimming.
Your brain holds fear. It lives in your human body,
deficient neurotransmitters. It is not poetic, to say the least, but it feels true.
It has a name-claustrophobia– specifically for you,
like someone is compressing your head, you can’t
open a window to breathe fresh air, the world is spinning
blurry, you are surrounded, can’t escape, an extreme
(irrational?) fear of confined spaces.
You can trace it back, maybe, to the flight to Chicago-lightning out the window, tornados below, a fire on the runway, adults getting drunk. You were with your brothers collecting tiny bottles as the adults laughed, entertained but nervous. They were nervous. You learned. Was this it?
Was it the flight to Boston, when the kid next to you suddenly spoke of impossible physics? He looked out the window and asked, “How is this happening? Air holding all of this weight?” The kid, travelling alone, pulled a white pill from his pocket. His doctor told him to take it. He offered you one. His eyes said, “Please.” You didn’t ask about the pill or his parents. You swallowed it and both of you floated home.
Was it when you were smaller, and the giant machine with the bright light lowered too close to your body? When you were on your back, on a cold table in a scratchy, blue paper dress, a heavy blanket pressing you down? You were not supposed to, could not move. Was it then?
It could have been the flight to Minneapolis when the physicist next to you remained calm, reading a book as the plane dropped a thousand feet. People screamed. She said, “Hot and cold air together. Like waves.” She said it was nothing compared to landing in the Himalayas, sliding backwards down a mountain. She was reading fiction, a book about women with diseases.
You are a woman
I am a child
holding too tight, when I am moving
faster with gasoline.
I am a child enclosed in metal.
I need to remember the wide, potential
distance I can go, miles and miles, no gas necessary.
I need to consider my own inversions.
Feel pressure in the space between my eyebrows.
There is a heartbeat in my legs,
into my skull, teaching me
to think my way out. I must
breathe through the hollow of her bones,
split between trust and terror. All I have to do is pull,
and she will fly into purple clouds,
a V disappearing, a wish upside down.
____III.________She does not hold me.
She is not vulning, obsessed with resurrection,
some mother, myth, Jesus, symbol, phoenix.
She is not fear.
She is a pelican, recovering, necessary, gray as waves.
* * *
Michelle Seaman‘s work has been published in literary journals such as Two Hawks Quarterly and 3Elements Literary Review, performed and recorded in collaboration with musical projects such as The Dwindlers and recognized by fellow nature writers at the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference. She has a Bachelor’s in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary Art from Columbia College Chicago. She also has an eternal case of wanderlust, an addiction to coffee, a proclivity to bike or wander in the woods alone and the tendency to prefer cats to humans.
featured photo by Benjamin Dauer