This is How We Became the Birds

Image © Susan Yount 2016


by  Nicole Rollender February 15, 2016

By holding up divining rods as their wings move mountains. By moonlight.
By burying a desiccated starling, pressing on its still-trumpeting heart.
By luring them to land on our inner arms, detached from earth.
By naming this crow Untethered.
By saying saints are Light Bearers, by telling migrating birds
how to pronounce sorrow.
By closing our eyes to salute the Hollow Ones. By watching their beaks,
a kind of weapon.
By spreading my legs and releasing a flock. By naming each: Empty Hearth,
Moon-less, My Boned Heart.
By putting Untethered’s feathers in our hair. By following his snow-prints
to where he vanished.
By fashioning a broken egg into a blizzard.
By sleeping beneath the nine doves nesting in the rafters. By smelling their mercy.
By assembling Empty Hearth’s bones into what we thought was a song.
By mapping their migration in a downpour. By smelling their sky trails.
By explaining how devotion tastes, brass on the tongue.
By measuring how long we will live by pinning their needle-bones below
our ribs.
By dropping tail feathers into water—praying for flight to enter our bodies.
By saying Moon-less’s spine is a bridge to where all wings glisten.
By believing there are other martyrs to die for us.
By fashioning a collar of stars to fasten around the falcon’s neck.
By listening to the swan’s song-cry-song-cry in the reeds, for mourning the child
sunken in the water.
By unsealing our bodies’ music. By listening to bird calls in the forest.
By taking Empty Hearth’s eyes for our own, for tracking the river at a distance,
above the collapsing forest.
By walking not-yet-dark paths, considering the blackbird left to die.
By digging for hollow bones in the remaining light.
By opening the door to the wind, carrying its many-winged chill.


Nicole Rollender’s work has (or will shortly) appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Memorious, Muzzle Magazine, The Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Louder Than Everything You Love is her first full-length poetry collection (ELJ Publications). She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding
Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Visit her online at

Susan Yount is editor of Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal, madam of the Chicago Poetry Bordello and founder of Misty Publications. She works fulltime at the Associated Press and teaches online poetry classes at The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative. She has published two chapbooks, House on Fire and Catastrophe Theory, and a third, Act 1, is forthcoming from Saucepot Publishing.


Back to top