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Heron in sunlit mist

Three Poems by Tara Bray

Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Poetry Finalist

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Resident Heron: After One More Loss

Familiar, ragged, bonely,
the bird so often dead-still in the heat,
in the same-ole, same-ole,
canvas of the worn, the common.
Her neck, fragile enough to snap,
eyes ringed with the sag of sorrow,
reminders of porch-sitting, tired-lady sweat.

I tamp the urge to damage the crooked bird,
turn it inward as the world taught,
the world I don’t forgive but am made of.

See what happens when fear robs the spirit.
That heron’s stuckness, my own,
her graveled bark, a reminder of my dread.
Our ruin comes from the same lack,
so I may as well slip through the trees, stalk
the ancient awkwardness that comes
with living in a body. She startles,

seems to take a breath before she lifts,
but this time clatters into branches, fails
to navigate proud trees, the bungling of bone
and wood rattling down to a hush,
then a breathing outside the body,
then a taste for grass, sun, harm, land, salt. 

And still, she leaves visions of wings
waving through the clouds like spirits,
all that light unburdening the face
with an even hand, a welcome trick

before I lapse back to the muck of ribcage,
wrist bone, the scribbling of veins.

 

 

Cardinal

Curtainless for years, walls bare,
this emptiness is brutal. 
It’s the child I’m hanging on for,
the good man I’m too tired to touch,
all other hungers given to the land,
the winged and plants with flavor. 

I’ve learned the cattail is the swamp’s super market,
and how to pour water over garnet at night
and drink it dry at dawn. 
So much of health is belief.
My family is a trinity. Strength 
a blood-song, but my learning came
from a summer planted in a hard chair outside. 

I’ll say this as clearly as I can. 
There’s a cardinal who’s come
to our feeder three years now. She’s marked
with a bright white feather that lines
the lower edge of one wing. 
Pert and elegant, she’s devoted to familiarity.
I’ve never known a bird for quite so long, 

although there’s no sign she knows me;
I’ve never heard her sing,
but she slips in to feed quickly, quietly alive.
I don’t think of her when I watch my husband sleep,
or cut strawberries for my daughter’s lunch,
but I count her in with simple things and finery,

that bright white line of her wing,
now less of a shock, more a groove
of memory, mercy, medicine, and faith.

 

 

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo: Years Post-Trauma

Told I’d never see one, but I did,
in spite of his noted shyness,
awed by his sunny bill, its downturned tip
made perhaps to add a look of wisdom,
a bit bigger than a mockingbird,
similar gray, though a different spirit,
one I quite admired. He moved intentionally,
head cocking side to side, soothing,

and I caught the eye gleam,
clocked a long time standing still enough
to see him preen, the spread of tail feathers,
their bold dots catching light,
just hours after talking to the woman who’d saved me
when I was young and cornered,
frightened as I’ve ever been. 

The next day I saw the pawpaws scattered
on the trail. Oh yes, as I child, I’d sang
of picking them up, “puttin’ ‘em in a basket,”
and for the first time, I touched them,
bruised on the ground, then glanced up to see
their light green perfection nearly hidden in the leaves 
Later, I ate one with my child, a shock of candy sweet,
and we wanted to go back and basket them,

and yes, for so long I didn’t understand all the ways
I was being carried, listened to and believed, 
and on this very day the cuckoo let me draw near,
ruined enough now to realize my luck, the goodness here 
a kind of love unseen, to live the understory,
and blend and feed and be.

 

 

 

Tara BrayTara Bray is the author of Small Mothers of Fright (LSU Press, 2015) and Mistaken For Song (Persea Books, 2009). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Crazyhorse, Agni, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, New England Review, and The Hudson Review.

Read two poems by Tara Bray previously published in Terrain.org.

Header photo by Johan Swanepoel, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Tara Bray by William Notter.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.