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I worry about the birds in a rain like this. Where do they go? Someone told me once that in a bad storm seabirds ride the waves, going where the current goes, but sometimes the ocean draws them far from shore. Too far out to swim back, too beaten down to fly, they drift. Some land-birds shelter in place, waiting under leaves or in the eaves of a hayloft or in the hollow of a rotted log while others feed their way through a storm, keeping the blood warm with any insects they can find. Drifting, shivering. Once as child I was caught
in a small boat with another boy as clouds charged over mountains and a curtain of rain came on in a roar. There was no time to make for shore. And as the day went hot to trembling cold, and we turned into the wind, and the rain hit the boat like a fist, and the hull began to fill, my friend started to cry then curse then pray, then whimper stop, please just stop. Do swallows fear that even their sins are small, fragile as their bones? Or do they huddle like children
in the basement as the bombs fall. Or do they sing as the world explodes? Right now that world is water and wind, raw power that can flood the sewers, turn streets to rivers, take down tree-limbs and power-lines, sending the town careening into darkness. Already the lights on the row of houses above us on the hillside have gone out. Already I can hear the sirens. Always a melody somewhere in the storm, no matter how ragged its wings, how hoarsely sung: the hawk positioned on the highest post, screeching his ungodly and defiant tune, spreads his wings to the wind: a sail in a fever-dream of the sun.
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Joel Peckham, Jr. has published seven books of poetry and nonfiction, most recently God’s Bicycle and Body Memory. Individual poems have appeared recently in or are forthcoming Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, The Sugar House Review, Cave Wall, The Beloit Poetry Journal and many others. Currently he is editing an anthology of ecstatic poetry for New Rivers Press, titled Wild Gods: The Ecstatic in American Poetry and Prose. His newest collection, Bone Music, is forthcoming in 2021 from Stephen F. Austin University Press.
featured photo: “Hawks at Night” by Susan Atefat Peckham