Paisley Rekdal

Gathering the Birds

Porch nest scattered, emptied, I
            am the one now sweeping
the rest from our doorstep: dead

            grass, dead brush, dark hair
tufts stuck in the eave’s
            bent railing: too slight

to support the weight of anything
            but the idea of a nest, which you
thought a kindness to shelter.

            But not now, not to me
trying and failing to scoop
            the three nude bodies up, bluish

bruises for the eyes and each mouth
            a garish triangle of yellow.
A postcard helps nudge them up

            into the dustbin: skins
still plump from too-
            warm blood; membranes moist

in the eye sockets; wingtips
            wrinkled, soft as the hands
of the doctor fitting his newest

            device inside me: thin, pin-
tails trailing their coppers.
            Pink, blind, nimble

fingers and the neck-skin with its
            ruddy creases. This
is going to pinch, he’d said, and the rest

            of the week blood streamed, it ran,
it stuck in the pads I continually
            changed out

so that my fingernails wore a rind
            of red noticed too late
at the dinner table. Of course,

            no nest, no bird, nothing to fly
to what shrills in the bones
            like the call of this last chick

found in its nest remnants:
            wave after wave
echoed down the block

            where more birds
reply, embroidering
            on the hunger. All over

are houses with nests
            of birds: one chick each, one mouth
snapped open, worn as a clutch

            purse. The chick’s head,
at rest, is hooded
            as a cobra’s. Was it you

who said you didn’t want this
            first? Was it me, one week
of every month, each month

            for half the decades
of my life? And now
            the squalling mouth that can’t

be filled, all the little bones
            I could break apart. Every absence
was a choice. And now

            the live chick’s cry begins, again,
to weaken. It tucks its head
            into its febrile hood while I

scoop up the blue-
            black neck, the bracken foot
of its brother, one wing tip

            catching the skin
of a wrist as I gather it, its closed eye
            closed to my own,

and the yellow mouth
            cracked open–

Paisley Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee; a hybrid-genre photo-text memoir that combines poetry, fiction, nonfiction and photography entitled Intimate; and four books of poetry: A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, The Invention of the Kaleidoscope, and Animal Eye, which was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Prize and winner of the UNT Rilke Prize.