Waterbirds

My grandfather walks through the fields with a friend,
an open smile on his face. 1928, a time
of innocence. He’s on his way back from the river
they would go to, barely eleven years old,
all the freedom in the world.
He talked about it years later
as one of the most marvelous things
he had seen in his life, a memory he went back to
surrounded by death in the Marshall Islands,
his surgical gloves elbow deep in blood.
He and another boy come upon a hillock of birds sleeping
piled one on top of the other in the snow,
too many to count. They have delved themselves in
to avoid freezing to death.
Their eyes shine like diamonds. The two boys
squat down low to watch the birds
shaking themselves awake.
It is the coldest morning he can remember
of the time with his family in Monroe, Louisiana.
“Brother, supper is just past six o’clock,
don’t forget to come.” As if a boy could forget
to be hungry. He sleeps under the trees
any night that he wishes. His parents caught off guard by his birth
so late in life. Some people are just born men, even as boys,
they are men. His wife will call him at the age of thirty
worried her heart has gone bad and she is dying,
the beating low in her chest like a trapped bird.
“Sit down and drink a cup of water. Just have to
settle you down.” It works on her to this day
at ninety-three, my grandfather as buried in her
as the waterbirds that did not die.

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All works © 2017, Shelley Hesse. All Rights Reserved.