The old barn where swallows lived
between the river and our grief
had become a kind of chapel raised
in the parentheses of belief. How we lingered
there through autumn, fragile as two leaves
still clinging to a tree, always on the verge of going
missing. One breath undressed another
until winter nested unangelically
inside us. Like a sorrow unresolved
by the heart because it is the heart, the barn
harvested us from the fallow fields
in which we were doomed to see each other
no longer luminous. The wind was sorry,
but it could not break our fall, nor keep this
from becoming the past. Collapsed now
in the valley’s grasses, voluptuous casualty
of winter’s depravity, the barn let gravity
fulfill its avowal to the hands that once built
the rafters. Swallows knew when it was time to leave;
their small hearts beating too fast to freeze.
What passes through ruins of the walled city,
bruises the figs, whittles breath into
song, propels doves arcing trellis-like
over our apportioned days, makes birds
dream of being birds, causes the poppies
to frolic like gaggles of girls in crimson
frocks, sculpts whirling minarets
of rain from the ancient dust of myth,
is not forbidden to enter the unbroken
darkness of caves, fills the hands of beggars,
enables the inscription of rivers, frees leaves
from the bondage of trees, anoints the smallest
voice, numbers the grain, elegizes the vanquished
shorelines, unbinds the sheaves, invites itself
to dinner, carries the scent of mint great
and treacherous distances, shatters glass,
loosens turquoise tiles, blinds soldiers
with sand, scatters noise and lassitude,
pulls the veil from the young woman
whose beauty is blasphemy, explodes the roses,
dulls the spires, weaves a ladder of blue,
devours itself, renders the fields fertile,
builds bridges of light, overshadows the gallows,
remembers us as we were, forgives history,
rings the chapel’s bell, calls us to prayer,
bids us remove our shoes before we step inside,
raises the sick child from her bed
so she can look out her window and see,
once more, how frail the sky is?
All through autumn, the sun’s hands undressed
the bones of a sparrow trapped within your chest.
Sweet putrescence of rotten flesh
summoned bees into an aviary of death.
The widow lay listening to their hypnotic drone,
letting herself forget the sharp edges of her loneliness,
and how the song of the sparrow that had once consoled
now tapered to rust hissing the length of the scythe’s honed
blade. She could no longer bear shadows pleading
with darkness to harvest them from frozen fields,
frost entombing each blade of grass in crystalline sheaths,
wind brutally unleafing the trees. A flock of geese
crosshatched their regrets on a scrap of achromatic sky.
They would not stay to see the widow become winter’s bride.
No sound falls from the bell tower of the flowering linden
where a visitation of finches congregate amid the white flowers.
They remind me of the difference between body and soul:
Body is the brilliant architecture of wings poised to fly
though the soul, unflinching, knows
it is not a bird anymore.
Just before it blew away, an oak leaf taught me how to feel.
I am enshrined in a labyrinth of elsewheres.
I tell myself stories. This is how I live.
In one story, a man sits in the corner of midnight
begging his typewriter for an explanation.
The word hope is tangled in his beard.
He wonders why he is not a bird anymore.
November comes down from the mountains
to curse the blackberries. It carves my likeness
into the side of an icicle. I resemble a flute with wings.
The dead seem to enjoy November with its horizonless cold
and habit of pecking out the stars. November has never been a bird.
Therefore it cannot not be a bird anymore.
I dream I am walking a tightrope attached on both sides
to nothing. Halfway across, I make the mistake of looking down.
Below me is everyone I have ever known, tumbling through space
like laughter. There is my father, dead three years now,
waving and smiling, a blue hospital gown fluttering
around his slight frame. One leg is gone at the knee,
but he floats gracefully through the inky blackness.
I want to touch him more than I want to breathe.
Life goes on even when you are not a bird anymore.
The stars send their regrets on small pamphlets of light.
They will not be coming to breakfast, ever.
I am feeling vague and drifty like the inside of a thought.
All around me I hear the absence of singing.
Please believe me when I say I'm terrified of not being
a bird anymore.
Wandering into dawn’s matinal light beneath a black cape
of geese overhead, the forest tore and scattered my shadow
among tessallations of withered leaves and twigs
as I walked until I could no longer feel,
until the hand that held the walking stick went numb,
I watched as sunlight slowly undressed itself from the limbs of trees
letting dusk come quickly, the day’s broken pieces dovetailing
seamlessly into night when at last I rested
against an ancient oak, my breath conjuring ghosts
from the winter air, I never felt the snow closing me like a sleeping bird,
turning me into a sound only the wind could pronounce.
received an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts and an MS in Education from the University of New Haven. Her poems have appeared in The Connecticut Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Connecticut River Review, Conduit, Cutbank, The Cream City Review and Verse, among other publications. She received a 2009 artist fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. Currently, she works as a Literacy Coach in New Haven, CT. Judith lives in Yalesville, CT with her husband, Robert, and their daughters, Grace and Sylvia.