Courtney Mandryk


This is not a poem about a bird.
This is a poem about a sky with a bird
inside of it, because
I swear when I close my eyes
I can’t feel where my fingers end
and air begins, but you retreated
when I talked that way. The sky now is deep red
at the edge of morning, or maybe bellowing
at the edge of night, I can’t tell.
There is nothing fair about any of this, how we were together
and lonely as blind calves, then apart,
transformed into birds with no compass,
Flying Spirographs of sorrow,
criss-crossing paths, tearing new holes
in night’s shield.
The sky is brighter now, and you
have sent our children back hungry.
They kick through our piles of feathers,
through a world with extra holes
for stars or nightmares. I say their names
across our dark, siren call unending.


Oxygen Tank

The praying mantis moves her arms like she is swimming
but she is dying on our front porch.
It is cold enough to see my breath. Our breath?
Our hearts are mostly made of water,
and our lungs. I am the river beside the river,
dreaming too much
and our son is floating head-down.
Golden seaweed in slow-motion.
What is infinity? Shit.
The heart grips. I plunge. He rises
with a straw in his mouth
connected to a juice box: makeshift plastic
oxygen tank.
How many tragedies do I cling to for no reason?
The river is dark. I can’t see my feet.
Rocks trip me in the underwater night.
I have heard stories that I make
myself forget.
All summer the river held us.
The sky is in the water, and I don’t drop my phone.
Our breathing only deepens as we dream.
The praying mantis is whispering something
my son says. He is a cumulus cloud in his down coat.
He is petting the insect who waves
and I know what it is like
to be here and already gone.
I have been trying to conjugate birds
but they become clouds, and the clouds dogs,
and the dogs prayers.
The sun makes sharp shadows
that look more solid than any cloud, any prayer.
Orion’s Belt is tattooed in freckles on our son’s spine.
He is alive.
I will trust for no reason at all.
I look at our son and I tell him so fiercely he can’t look up,
Everything feels as important as it is.