Betsy Sholl

Whatever Alights
September 22, 2020 Sholl Betsy

Whatever Alights
A zillion yeses to the titmice at my feeder,
to their silky gray backs, their white bellies
tinged in rust, their little black eyes.
Yes to the fruit and nut mix that draws them,
to the runner who scares them off, the nuthatch
who comes back first. And yes to my sister
suddenly back from the dead as if from Houston,
calling the bird silly for the way it spirals
along the tree trunk upside down.
And–why not?–yes as well to her taking
the last of the cereal, the wine, retelling
the plot of her novel, memory’s one door
she can still open. After years of being smart
in four languages and dumb in the dialect
of feeling, years of so what to the birds
and how stupid the crepe myrtle, she’s back,
gentled, and because a woman, she sings
as I fold laundry, songs from Cameroon-
she who worked hard and grudgingly for God
as if God were more chore than marvel,
she who divided the world into like
and dislike, use, useless, broken, fixable.
I wonder if on the other side of the river,
that Rio Grande only the dead can cross,
the birds are no longer nervous, the air
free of predators. When she returns
my sister no longer limps, hardly grumbles
or says stupid when really she means sad.
It’s as if she is back inside our mother hearing
the soothe of muffled cadences before words,
before yes and no, whatever hurt her,
whatever alighted and then, before she could
hold it, flew or was snatched away.

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.