Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror

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.


Copyright © 2019 by Kelli Russell Agodon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“While reading an article about self-recognition in magpies, I began to also think of a conversation I had with my doctor about the increase of requests for anti-anxiety medication these days. I began to wonder—how do we respond to our fellow humans when they break down in front of us? Do we recognize ourselves in them? Or do we judge them for not being able to keep it together? Ultimately, I think it comes down to compassion—we have the choice to help or to leave, though my hope is we all try to take care of each other.”
Kelli Russell Agodon