145. I Carry Three Birds

Their wings rub against my ribcage,

trapped, and each heart pounds fast,

as if I’ve stopped some kind of migration.


The cardinal knows when to save with a song,

when to fly and when to nurture.

The second is a robin, for singing during the afternoon

when my thinking can be confusing, when I mistake

the danger of branches for the opportunity of building.

And the last is the crow, for protection,

for remaining when it’s cold.


But I confuse which bird I need

with the one I listen to, my mistake

in switching them around.

Sometimes the singing should continue,

but I crow curses instead.

Sometimes when I should let go

to soar, I scamper within the trees.


Even then, all three continue

to build a nest out of the ruins,

to nestle in through my winters.

— Dennis Etzel

(previously published in Poetry Midwest)

Dennis Etzel Jr. lives with Carrie and their two sons in Topeka, Kansas. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Kansas and teaches at Washburn University. He is Co-Managing Editor of Woodley Press, Poetry Editor for seveneightfive, and hosts the Top City Poetry Reading Series. Work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, RATTLE, BlazeVOX, kiosk, Poetry Midwest, Coal City Review, Flint Hills Review, I-70 Review, and seveneightfive.

Photo by Kevin Rabas


2 thoughts on “145. I Carry Three Birds

  1. We certainly can learn a lot by watching the birds and studying their ways, as Elizabeth Schultz reminds us. A worthy effort by the author.

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