The only blue I’ve seen for weeks is this body,
the color of my winter sky in plumage, a jay
fresh-killed for my assumption of doubt
for spring’s awakening. And it will be
months until there is haven again for any of us.
Months until warmth is pliant in lake beds when
small fish will scatter away from my steps.
How many moonfish would the river hold
if you squeezed the banks together for an instant?
Each April I think of my father’s smelt runs, the inky
rimed artesian creek lined shoulder to shoulder three
men deep pressing with nets and lanterns. Kerosene
hung in the piercing air. The rush of silver thicker than
a slot machine’s payment. He’d bring his pails into
the kitchen before sunrise, line the table with yesterday’s
paper, hand us each a shining knife, and pour the smelt
into a pile, some still alive, their flat eyes breathing.
It is not a field of poppies, this death. Nor is it the
shadow of a black willow, its head downcast unless
the wind builds coming in from the big lake. Steeling
from bleakness takes as much as hurtling upstream.
These willow leaves now, damp as nervous fingers
splayed across the fractured sidewalk are the jay’s
feathers scattered from the cats’ elation. The headless
corpse, wanton by the cellar door, their usual modus operandi.
First blood at the throat, then sliced clean up the belly.