Betsy Sholl

June 22, 2023 Sholl Betsy


The drill of its song    the whoop whoop whoop
more insistent at sunrise than a clock—
nobody should sleep when it wants a mate!


It’s a red biretta the wind sends tumbling off
a flame burning on the top branch of an oak
and nothing crumbles     nothing turns to ash


it’s God having second third and fourth
thoughts     an apple with wings    a star cooled
into a song      Once I held one in my hands


I hadn’t seen it fly through the propped open door
as the handyman carried out buckets of old paint
it must have felt sorry to see all that color go


it must have sensed a vacuum it could fill
it flew in    bumped against windowsills crowded
with stones and little vases     it was a flower


that didn’t need a stem    it didn’t know
what it was getting into     didn’t know that
getting out wouldn’t be easy     it was a panic


dressed in feathers     a jittery laser light
I had to be patient and quick to get its heartbeat
in my two hands     elbow open the back door


stand there letting its soft volts pulse through me
a jolt of undiluted life      it was a small god
I didn’t want to let go      I could see why people


make idols and icons    its fright stirred my pity
it was a flame flickering    if it didn’t get air
it would be snuffed out    I had to open


my hands     let it be reborn    it was a flag
flying free of its insignia    of pulley and pole
it was a spark blown off the grinding wheel


of the world to catch wherever it landed
it was a visitation I couldn’t doubt    and like
all visitations    it left me breathless and bereft

Betsy Sholl’s ninth collection is House of Sparrows: New & Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, 2019).Her 10th collection, “As If a Song Could Save You,” will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in fall of 2022. She teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.