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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wednesday excerpt from our 2021 Birdy Poetry Prize winner, Alison Hicks!

Welcome, and congratulations, Alison!

Alison Hicks joined the Meadowlark family last week at the Birdy Poetry Prize event! Today, you're lucky enough to have a sneak peek at three of the poems that will be in her upcoming book, Knowing is a Branching Trail. 

Make sure to check out Alison's website, as well as follow her author page on Facebook and her Amazon author page, too. She has two other poetry collections available for purchase.

Photo credit: The Emporia Gazette



He was hanging by a leg

from the gutter of our house.

Dead, of course, by the time we noticed.

He must have been scouting for a nest

and somehow his foot caught.

There he stayed, tavern sign or tarot card: 

the hanged starling.


What did it mean? We wanted to know.

How long had it taken for the bird to die?

A human being would have yelled 

until someone heard and brought opposable thumbs 

to unhook what was caught.

Was he stoic, in the way we expect animals to be,

or had he made a sound we didn’t recognize or understand?


It wasn’t easy to reach him,

so we let him hang all fall,

and when it got cold,

we came inside and forgot.

In spring, we looked up from the patio,

and he was gone—

loosened with icicles or taken by a squirrel

or hollowed out so much hanging there

that his body blew away.


Shortly after we’d moved in,

a starling fell down our chimney.

He landed on the hearth, took a couple of jerky steps,

then flew up, full wings 

wider and stronger than I expected.

My instinct was to duck, his to fly,

so he made for the stairs,

wing grazing my hair.

He churned the air, beating and thrashing

in that artificially enclosed place:

the shelter we needed, having lost 

the fur that had protected us.

(His power, our diminishment.)


Once we gave it some thought, 

it wasn’t so difficult to get him out.

We turned off the lights in the house,

kept the porch light on.

Then we opened the door.


We had a wire grate placed over the chimney.

Sometimes they nest outside my office,

in the space between the air conditioner 

and the windowsill. They make a song, 

that isn’t quite song—a low coo-trill

that enters just under 

the threshold of my hearing.


I want to believe in a world beneath this one.

The bird that flies across the lawn

is a messenger, that if I follow her

in my mind, I will come to a door

she will let me through to the underside of the world.

I will look at my life from below,

my husband and son walking,

the bottom of their shoes.

Other times I think there is no door, nothing below.

The bird flying bent on her own purposes,

her color the outcome of natural selection.

Nothing mystical, just the world working itself out.

Hummingbirds are squeaking, dive-bombing the feeder.

I, too, sitting right-side up in this world.

The bird keeps coming back.

The bird speaking through me.


You could be swimming along minding your own 

when the shock from that body hits. Watch out, fish. 

Now that these flyboys are back, 

they live to tuck and drill down. 

They’ll scoop you up, hinge back their gullets, 

snap them shut on a trip you’re not coming back from.

Pelicans fly low up the coast 

in formation, with a few strokes,

heads back, scanning the waves.

They used to fly into Fisherman’s Wharf for R and R

until the authorities chased them off. 

Rougher and larger close up, lounging on the railings,

strutting in their battered jackets,

peering down their oversized beaks

at the crowds gathered to get a look at the outlaws.

“Yellow Bird” first appeared in Blood Orange Review, Vol 8.2, Fall 2016

“Starlings” first appeared in Poet Lore, Vol 112 #3/4, Fall/Winter 2017

“The Pelicans” first appeared on Vox Poetica, 11/11/2019

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