by James Owens
The day comes, perhaps in your fiftieth year,
when you know the rest of it is a letting go.
Parents will die and soon. Children, grown
long and angular, will choose strangers and leave.
The shadows of branches will fall through the space
you knotted into a body, and the sunlight
that warms your cheek like a hand is not a hand.
The future is velocity and Impressionist smears
of color, snow and frozen earth, blood—
this ordinary knowledge is as still
and lethal as water in a boarded-over well,
and no words will make it better or worse.
After that, you will drive the backroad fence-lines,
when rain has smudged twilight onto maple leaves,
and the wind of the coolest summer in memory
glances off the yellow and purple of ragweed and thistle
and smooths the lacy heads of young wheat
like copperish fur the fields lift to be smoothed.
Sandhill cranes will rise from a field left fallow,
thick with tall grass and groundsel and chicory,
almost rife enough to hide the birds, except for
the lithe necks and ruddy crowns bobbing and curious.
You stop to see. Three row heavily into the air
and level off, and you think that is all,
long, thin bodies laboring against their own density
to find the easy point where momentum
outbalances weight. But then four more rise,
and a dozen more, as if birthed from wet farmland
that opens and shudders them toward the slate sky,
and twenty more, you beside the car now and shouting
astonishment up into their midst, one wordless word
lost in the slow, washboard rattle of their calls.
Then they are past, the improbable contrivances
of wing and feather disappearing in formation.
You stand a moment in the quiet and then go home.
James Owens’s newest book is Family Portrait with Scythe (Bottom Dog Press, 2020). His poems and translations appear widely in literary journals, including recent or upcoming publications inGrain, Dalhousie Review, Presence, Wild Court, and Honest Ulsterman. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in a small town in northern Ontario.