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  • My Son Asks for the Story about When We Were Birds
  • Joe Wilkins (bio)

When we were birds, we veered & wheeled, we flapped & looped—

it’s true, we flew. When we were birds, we dined on tiny silver fish & the watery hearts of flowers. When we were birds,

we sistered the dragonfly, brothered the night-wise bat,

and sometimes when we were birds,

we rose as high as we could go— the light cold & strange—

& when we opened our beaked mouths sundown poured like wine down our throats.

When we were birds we worshipped trees, rivers, mountains,

sage knots, rain, gizzard rocks, grub-shot dung piles,

&, like all good beasts & wise green things, the mothering sun. We had many gods when we were birds, [End Page 1]

& each in her own way was good to us, even winter fog,

which found us huddling in salal or silk tassel, singing low, sweet songs & closing our blood-rich eyes & sleeping the troubled sleep of birds. Yes,

even when we were birds, we were sometimes troubled & tired,

sad for no reason, & so pretended we were not birds & fell like stones—

the earth hurtling up to meet us, our trussed bones readying to be shattered, our unusually large hearts pounding for nothing—

yet at the last minute we would flap & lift, & as we flew, shudderingly away,

we told ourselves that this falling—

we would remember. We thought we would always be birds. We didn’t know.

We didn’t know we could love one another

with such ferocity. That we should. [End Page 2]

Joe Wilkins

joe wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on the Big Dry, winner of a 2014 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers award and a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award; and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his his wife, son, and daughter in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.



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