Alana Merritt Mahaffey
The Greeks and Romans believed it:
that the swallow, the mysterious bird darting
between trees, skimming the surface of fields,
carried the souls of dead children within their breast
a liaison between the living and the gods.

What is it that I want to tell you now of
dying children and birds. What comforts?

Outside the hospital window black crows flutter
across power lines, stare over parked cars and automatic doors.
You sleep for minutes, poised like a scarecrow.
You build a nest of hospital sheets around him.
You feed him with spoons and the nurses smile dutifully.

Our silence is broken by the chirps of complex machines.
I follow the waves of light and numbers that only doctors understand.

There is no peace in the dove; no fear is stirred by vultures.
I watch you fly slow circles around the bed, brushing away
white coats perched by the door. I want to tell them
about swallows and the easing of souls from their mother’s arms,
how the Greeks and Romans believed it.

Alana Merritt Mahaffey teaches writing in Arkansas. She is active in arts-in-prison campaigns in the South and is president of the Arkansas Inmate Collective and the Arkansas Literary Society.

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