by Max Eberts

Blue feather, blue flame—my father 
likes the blue jay over the sparrow 
my mother loves. The jay is a winner, 
the color of first prize. Blue 
is ablaze when the jay takes flight.  
Blue—my father's favorite color.  
Once when I was young helping 
with yard chores, I found 
a blue jay feather glistening in the light— 
and ran to show it to my father, who asked, 
Is there anything bluer than a jaybird, 
unless it’s your brother's eyes? 
It’s true—eyes like blue jade, 
eyes that startle when they catch 
yours—not brown like mine.  
My brother, a real looker, but loud 
and raucous, a blusterer always 
busting onto the scene, a prankster, 
his antics an unrelenting routine—
grabbing food off my plate, 
especially steak, hoarding cookies 
before downing the last two in the jar, 
wrecking my bike, my guitar, 
or raiding my tidy room, taking 
whatever he likes. But when I enter 
the jay bird’s nest, that tousled mess 
of a room, to retrieve what’s mine, 
he screams at the top of his lungs 
Thief! Thief! And when my friends 
come over, big brother—taller, stronger—
dares us all to take him on, 
goading, shouting, Do it! Do it!
What's worse is when his friends are over—
a gang of jays ganging up on a sparrow—
the blitz reaches its shrillest pitch.  
Yet my father forgives my brother 
for his noisy ways, his bad habits, 
just as he does the jay—too beautiful, 
too spirited not to forgive.  
My brother, too handsome, too boyish 
not to favor, always showing off, 
always stirring up my father’s pride.  
The natural athlete hurls himself 
into danger the way a jay bounds 
with ease through perilous tree tops.  
Diving headfirst to steal home plate, flying 
into the end zone for a touchdown pass, 
like a jay swooping to snatch 
a cicada on the wing—my brother, 
a winner, Fall River’s Boys League 
MVP, every year, every sport, 
taking first prize. And so for years, 
I kept that glistening blue feather—
perfect, beautiful as his eyes—placing it 
in an old leather box my father gave me, 
stashing it under my lucky jersey, 
my blue baseball jersey, 
certain it would give me power—
to play like him, to be handsome like him, 
to win my father’s pride.  
After a fast storm, the month 
he turned thirteen, my brother found 
a fallen nest of baby sparrows, 
song sparrows—the parents perished.  
He came to me with the nest of gaping 
mouths, saying, We’ve got to save them, 
or they’ll die. Do it. Do it now!  his eyes 
flickering—blue neon lights on the blink. 
Since when did he care about sparrows? 
Still, how could I refuse? I placed the nest 
of nestlings in a small box, and 
all through the day for days, we fed them
taking turns. And though we never 
minced words, now we minced worms, 
not once missing a feeding.  
They grew, and when they fledged, 
flying away, my brother gave me the empty 
nest and said, You should have this 
since you're Mom's little sparrow.  
Sometimes I wonder if Mom loves you 
best, but because I saved the sparrows, 
now she'll love me the most. I smiled 
and took the tidy nest and pierced it 
with that glistening blue feather. 
It sits on my shelf—like something 
from ritual or lore, like the funny hat 
my grandfather wore at secret meetings 
of his fraternal order, or like some lost 
species of bird, mild as a dove, wingless, 
self-conscious, having only one feather.