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.