Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror

Kelli Russell Agodon

The night sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world, but we can
change our hardware. America breaks my heart
some days, and some days it breaks itself in two.
I watched a woman have a breakdown in the mall
today and when the security guard tried to help her
what I could see was all of us
peeking from her purse as she threw it
across the floor into Forever 21. And yes,
the walls felt like another way to hold us in
and when she finally stopped crying,
I heard her say to the fluorescent lighting, Some days
the sky is too bright. And like that we were her
flock in our black coats and white sweaters,
some of us reaching our wings to her
and some of us flying away.

More by Kelli Russell Agodon

Hunger

If we never have enough love, we have more than most.
We have lost dogs in our neighborhood and wild coyotes, 
and sometimes we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes
we don’t want to. Once I brought home a coyote and told
my lover we had a new pet. Until it ate our chickens.
Until it ate our chickens, our ducks, and our cat. Sometimes
we make mistakes and call them coincidences. We hold open
the door then wonder how the stranger ended up in our home.
There is a woman on our block who thinks she is feeding bunnies, 
but they are large rats without tails. Remember the farmer’s wife?
Remember the carving knife? We are all trying to change 
what we fear into something beautiful. But even rats need to eat.
Even rats and coyotes and the bones on the trail could be the bones
on our plates. I ordered Cornish hen. I ordered duck. Sometimes 
love hurts. Sometimes the lost dog doesn’t want to be found.
 

Related Poems

To the Cardinal, Attacking His Reflection in the Window

“It is your very self” I tell him.  
He has never seen me.  

His quick coin of breath disappears on the glass as it forms: air 
that feeds his bones their portion

willingly as it feeds mine.  He spends his here, 
besieged by the dull birds who gather 

and whom he cannot touch, his own feathers 
red as wrought blood.  

Dear bird, how many selves 
must you vanquish? 

In the mornings, his wings are backlit.  They are beating, 
delicate, cruciform, hollow feather, hollow bone.  

In the blizzard his furor is the only color, 
the only shape.  He is waiting 

for the coward to come out.  There is nothing 
all winter he has saved to eat.  

I saw a female the day before he disappeared.  
Her beak just as orange, her body, calm, watched his.  

I made voices for her: variations on the pride 
and hemmed patience of women I’d known 

whose husbands did insistent, strong, 
and strange things.  Maybe she knew it was spring.  I didn’t.  

The next day he came once 
to throw the bright dime of his life to the walled world, 

as if to make sure 
it was not feather against feather that hurt him. 

Please Read

Once upon a time there was a bird, my God.
—Clarice Lispector

I am the yellow finch that came to her feeder an hour before she died. I was the last living thing she saw, so my responsibility was great. Yet all I did was eat. Through eight long months of winter the black oiled sunflower seeds had gone untouched—not a single one of my kind or any other kind had approached them. It was too much work. Even if we’d had the strength—which we did not, half-starved as we were—we were not in the mood to crack anything. On the morning of the twenty-second of April she took them away and refilled the feeding tube with sunflower hearts—sheeny niblets whose hard outer husk had been stripped away by some faraway, intricate machine. She went back inside and waited. From my branch I could see her do the things she liked to do—she picked up a towel from off the floor, she filled out a card stopping the mail, she boiled water, she stared into space. She saw me coming. Her face flickered with, if not exactly joy, the ordinary wellspring of life. It’s true there was a sheet of glass between us. But I could see the seeds of her eyes and the upturned corners of her mouth. I ate a heart. I turned my head. She looked at me as if I were the last living thing on earth. And as I was, I kept on eating.

Palinode

1.

a bird / falls off / a balcony / panicked grasping / fistfuls of / air

2.

I was wrong
please I was
wrong please I
wanted nothing please
I don’t want