Jessica Barksdale

Catch It

Beneath the wings of wild birds are the answers
to everything, instructions & details that evaporate

like mist when the bird is dead, dying, or downed. No
mystery that we know so little, time being of the essence

& no one pays attention anyway. When we do, we have
to be quick. An oriole is known for carrying detailed

instructions about love. The owl? Sexual positions.
The hawk? Childrearing. The dove carries war strategies,

& the tufted titmouse nuclear warhead technology. Once a birder
found the map to Atlantis under the right wing of an Anna’s

hummingbird. The soft side of a fledgling whippoorwill
explicated the blueprint of Area 51. A male kingbird had directions

to God’s favorite house clamped tight under a left (now broken)
wing. A snowy egret revealed Bigfoot’s secret location, with sincere

apologies. No one knows what the albatross carries other than bad news.
The Sand Hill crane soars with coordinates for a habitable planet

in a parallel universe. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.
You can find out all you need online. You can read a few books, strap

on a backpack & go. You can take a few classes & talk
to your elders. Mingle a little. Learn a new language, take an art

class. Blow glass, batter metal to airy thinness, macrame. Read.
Reach up. Knowledge flies, flickering past, hovering in the trees,

basking in the bath, available if you can catch it.


Vancouver Lake, Washington

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the lake blooms
green with algae and bacteria, trapped there as it is between
houses and industry. Sometimes with the swoop
of eagle, osprey, Sand Hill crane, the smoke in the distance
could be an unusual weather system, strange cloud.
Sometimes we could be twenty-one people in a boat trying
to paddle somewhere other than around and around the green
treed island in the middle. Look, three active volcanoes in the distance,
snowcapped, ready to blow, alcazars of the natural. There the whap
of fish on wave, the swirl and rise of swallow. From the wetlands,
from the trees, bird calls, birdsong. From above, I see the shallow edge,
the brown earth ringing the lake’s thin blueness. There I see the plod
of factories, the port, the barges, the construction, the train tracks,
the impossibility of sewers holding. Look at tiny Lake River bringing water from the Columbia, the only fresh supply other than rain,
of which there is plenty, at least, this year. But never mind that.
It is seven in the morning. We put on our gear and walk out
onto the dock. The water is as smooth as a dark tabletop. The sun is quiet behind the storm, the world gray, the water in front of us lapping as it should. We sit down, paddles up, ready to move forward
into what we can see, what we cannot.


Jessica Barksdale is the author of the poetry collection Grim Honey and the novel The Play’s the Thing, both published in 2021. Her novel What the Moon Did is forthcoming February 2023. Her short story collection Trick of the Porch Light is forthcoming in fall 2023. She taught composition, literature, and creative writing at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and continues to teach novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.