Erin CaseWilted (collage)

My father         made constellations
            with his hands. My father        watched the mother swan

killing her injured cygnet,        beak opened, razored
            teeth chafing her baby’s           wound. This happened

in weeds. My father     chased the mother with a shovel,       
            wrapped the cygnet     in his flannel shirt.

My father,        who looked into the cygnet’s black eyes                     
            saying stay with me,        slid its body into a dog carrier,

watched the mother rising up in the water      hissing,
            hissing, the light           holding them all together         then breaking.


From under the scaffolding in Chartres, I watched

            a dove reach a rose window: below centuries of fire-

            steels, whetstones, a key, back to the place where I was held

down, belt buckles, the weeds where I was pushed down

            as he ripped his belt asunder. Like my mother’s heaven,

            the one that would crack to release God’s rapture.

And the cygnet who died under a bulb that looked to him like the sun.


A peasant woman blows unthirst into the widow. This is why
we slip coins into her pockets: her lips aren’t afraid to etch the dead’s teeth.

She does this: in-wails, exhales pieces of crumbled fontanelle. Already
her mirrors cover themselves. What does it mean, forsaking all others?

The dog positions his curve-boned belly on a board hewn for a body.
Shadow-cast fontanelle. He’ll jump up before turning to ash. The missel-

thrush last spring forsook its nest—yet, the quiver of a tiny claw, the cant
of an ulna bone inside the egg’s firmament. And its whole world.


In rain, so many birds rising. Reflection in the car window,

                                               pairs of hands shining

over chicken wire.

And the gray cygnet soft in weeds, its neck torn open

                                    is somehow almost dead and still

alive, everything in balance.


When I woke this morning I was still someone’s daughter,
someone’s mother. As if that should surprise me, I’m still living in this body
that has carried me here. The dead pass through me—it really is
like light through water. The silence I miss—in this thicket, the wildness
of children. For once, I kneel next to the bed. This must be what love is:
a shining blade so exquisitely cut that after my throat is slit, I still sing. 

Nicole Rollender