My son swats a finch with his bat
when my daughter swoops
the breathing bird in her arms
and runs toward the river.
There, she stitches
the birds torn wing with staples
and hangs it to a tree. All day
as if she’s never noticed its shadow
swaying above the chanterelles.
I read of a boy in Birmingham
who set fire to barns along an empty interstate.
He trapped horses in stalls
and admitted, when questioned,
it wasn’t the thought of the roof imploding,
but the flurry of ash thereafter.
I want to tell you
how my daughter
laid the bird in a wood box
and dropped a match.
How she wept
as its wings went up in smoke.
But bear with me.
A little girl’s sorrow
is worth a hundred men’s lives.
Sometimes, on a walk,
looking for butterflies or fallen fruit,
I’ll send my son a few hundred feet
and ask, when he returns,
whether the acreage up ahead
is worthwhile. If so,
we’ll eat until our stomachs ache. If not,
I’ll demand he go a little farther,
looking for fruit
without bruised ruts or flies, finch
in the foreground singing.
a wildfire gnawed spruce
to snapping tinder. Silence lumbered
the sky’s carved dome
and came closer. At night it swelled
the blurred interior
like a lung of light. I’d wait
by the window, watching, wait
until sunrise. Listen for sounds
of my son’s feet
racing across the cloven field, forbid
him to pass through the gate.
—previously published in Narrative Magazine
LUKE JOHNSON lives on the California Coast with his wife and three kids. His poems can be found at Kenyon Review, Narrative, Florida Review, Thrush, Valparaiso Review, Nimrod, Tinderbox, Greensboro Review and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Award and his chapbook, :boys, was published by Blue Horse Press in 2019.
Author’s note: “‘Finch’ uses imagistic leaps to show ‘failed’ sheltering from the speaker’s perspective and his children’s.”
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