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Christianne Balk

Birds, Converging

Sun salved, we sit on the front porch, careful
when we speak, watching the crows swagger near
the property line, dabbing – what. A nest
of grubs? Ice-wintered berries? New grass shoots?
Such purposeful pecking. They pause, sky-tipped.
Resume their work. Curious, we step close –
a starling twitches at their feet. One eye
gone, the other blinking fast, rib cage open
to the sun as the snow unravels from
our roof, soaking the lawn. Your arm touches mine
and all the words we had this morning fall
away like the empty husks piled under the feeder,
seeds cracked open by the birds, converging.

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The Kitchen Shears Speak

This division must end.
Again I'm forced to amputate
the chicken's limb; slit the joint,
clip the heart, snip wing from back,

strip fat from flesh, separate
everything from itself. I'm used,
thrown down by unknown hands,
by cowards who can't bear to do

the constant severing. Open and close!
Open and close. I work and never tell.
Though mostly made of mouth, I have no voice,
no legs. My arms are bent, immobile

pinions gripped by strangers. I fear
the grudge things must hold.
I slice rose from bush, skin from muscle,
head from carrot, root from lettuce,

[...] Read more

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Lauds for St. Germaine Cousin (1579-1601)

Blessed is the One who lifts the slow sun
above this morning's raw orange edge,
who moves the ewe to nudge her birth-
stunned lamb into the flock's heat, who
leads the hen to steer her keets as soon as
they can walk into the insect-
filled, high grass, guides the owl to tear fresh
pigeon into pieces small enough
to fill the owlet's gaping bill,
and prompts the rat to lick the pup
that's not her own and take it to her side,
directs the swan to trumpet,
bob her head, and raise her wings, quivering

into a living canopy
above the nest built without hands
by those who have no hands, just wings,
wings that cannot weave but must and somehow
do, just as I twist thread from the distaff's
wild wether wool, skirted, sorted, scoured,

[...] Read more

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Departure

Thousands of tiny
fists tamping the surface of the lake
flowing like a wide
river gone crazy, southeast, westnorth
letting the wind push
it around in its bed and the boat
hull hugging the shore.
What else can she do? Even the trees
agree, shaking
their crowns, throwing down their leaves as if
she were their only
child. Caught cold-footed in Magnuson
grass, trying to cut
free of the creosote-soaked pilings sunk
deep in the shallow
mud holding the water, holding her
wake for a moment,
furrow folding back over into
confusion. Cascade
gray crosscurrents! Sharp switching eddies!

[...] Read more

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Shorthorns

Heavy-hocked, barrel-bellied,
exhaling billows of steam, they wait
while the corn, wheat, clover,
and potato fields surround us, finished
for the season. We listened to their hooves
shift. Blue tongues lick black shoulders,
impatient horns stab the ground.
Soon Father will open the gate
to where to the last crop sits
sun-softened, stem ends dark, sinking
back into the dirt. For pulling plows,
for yanking oak and hickory grubs
up by the roots, for heaving stumps,
for stopping one night on the way home
from town, for refusing even the buckled ends
of harness reins raising long welts
across their backs lathered by sweat
and rain, for allowing us to grab
their tails, for leading us like blind
children away from the wagon

[...] Read more

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