What’s happened to the herring gulls,
that ubiquitous bicker? Where are the many
who’d scream and wheel above our island picnics,
faces tilted, cocked-eye to the blueberry pie
on the smooth rock below?
Now in their place, double-crested cormorants
and their attendant gathering of terns
that twist and twitter in a hunger flash, cacophonous
confetti-cloud, fork-tailed and mean-mouthed,
snatching minnows scared up
by the surging tide of cormorants,
this flock they shepherd.
Seven big boats in the bay today—still
the loons protect their nest, hoot and flap: over here! over here! I can’t help them.
Or the gulls. Or my son who is fledged and flexing
his own hollow-shafted wings, trying
to divide and divine the answer from its promise.
I no longer take the first burning bite
from the silver-handled spoon. No need,
too-late, to stroke his back, clear a path
through the detritus of his room, books
and ancient underwear, damp towels on the floor,
Lego long forgotten in a drawer.
I cradle a baby swallow flung from his neat nest,
spindle-necked, a patch of downy crown,
sallow fat along his twig-fine breastbone.
Shad-flies I stuff
down that absurdly open throat
hold him here for only a moment.
At dusk we call the dog who doesn’t come,
find she’s cornered a snake under the deck,
her furious tail a give-away.
Last night, a big fight and the bite of silence
between us. Oh, we built our silence up,
brick and mortared it. Such important work!
Almost an entire day, the sheer toil of it.
Now this snake, thick, gravid, its tail
as delicate as our boy’s first baby bracelet.
We pull the dog away, together bend close,
examine the patterned scales,
such perfect camouflage,
that unhurried, unblinking stare.
In the split second of eternity, what do we know
that isn’t before speaking?
— James Grabill
Near the end of his life, Charlie Parker
had nowhere to go so he rode the subway
to the end, then rode it back again.
He stood in front of Birdland in the rain
with nothing left to say. Music plays
inside our home, in a mellow tone, Black Cat
purrs a wheezy tune, cockatiels whistle and buzz,
my husband’s hands clasp ebony, mahogany,
feather nylon strings. His fingers move
of their own accord, an articulated chord,
careful to convey what he’s unable to say, while outside,
a red-tailed hawk completes a fence post in the rain.
Cynthia Neely is the 2011 winner of the Hazel Lipa Prize for Poetry chapbook contest for Broken Water, published by Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. Her work has appeared in The Writers’ Chronicle as well as numerous journals and in several anthologies. Her full-length book of poetry, Flight Path, was published in May 2014 by Aldrich Press.