Have You Feathers, Do You Speak?

Have You Feathers, Do You Speak?

Have You Feathers, Do You Speak? 1920 1280 Jenna Nielsen

Once you were a blade, a wishing well, a protest, a reprieve. Ghost and shield and haunted.
Talons clutching branches of lilac, lacy and blue. The globe and the snow and the dirty slush
all that was left come April. Once you were an old grey house.

Now there are birds in the oleander outside my window; can you hear the tsk-tsk-tsk they make,
branch to branch? What about their little brown nothingness among the grey-green winter
leaves? What about the air they split with their wings?

Do you remember a small golden bear we got somewhere in Europe, the one with the red nose,
and that Danish doll named Oona? The girls in the shows Pa worked with their high glitter eyes
and strong hooves prancing. Voices a Babel of tongues across the continent we crossed.

Are you blood, are you dirt? Are you someone’s child at a window wailing, the snow filling in
all the empty spaces it can find? A cardinal like a stain on the branch outside. Are you air, are
you earth? Have you feathers, do you speak?

How you labored at the end, strained to take air up through ash-thickened flesh.
Took, on the last day, a nurse in a headlock, all eighty pounds of you.
Your eyes, your bones, your will.

Do you remember when the cops got called because you were raving and naked, pieces of glass
shattered on the floor? Bitter words shredding the night. Your father throwing you down on the
lawn to cast out demons when you were twelve. Staying down for the count. We learn, in this
family, to stay down for the count.

What about how the sun keeps pushing out from behind clouds all the while that it’s raining,
the transfiguration of everything in that luminous air? How when I couldn’t sleep, you’d read
poetry to me, sing me the Lorelei, light in the room dim, blankets tucked to my chin, and the
words leaping like deer on the walls of a cave.

What about the ghosts in that house we lived in on 60th Street? The devil’s head and the ghost
cats and whatever else all of you could see and I couldn’t? What about the fear in that house?
What about the shards? The jungle you painted in the bedroom A. and I shared, all the animals in
the trees, their eyes glittering and black among the green.

Do you remember the men who lived in the house behind ours, how the meds some of them took
made them dull and strange and full of tics, so that they looked as if they were walking the
streets sowing seeds of grain?

What about how I stayed away, how I can’t remember if I stayed away, how I can’t remember
how I felt listening to you breathe? The tears I still don’t know I swim in. Do you remember
what you wanted when you were small, who you were then, before the demons and the grip on
your arm, and the sky spinning when you opened your eyes where you lay on the ground? Was it
springtime, was it noon? Were there birds?

Header photograph © Mane Hovhannisyan.

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