by Emily Rose Cole
That summer, the mimosa tree sickened and dropped
a shroud of wilted crowns over my father’s backyard.
This was before the rain garden dug its purple thumbprint
of foxglove and thistle into the landscape, before the deer
bloodied their mouths with the last of our raspberries, before
mother and cancer rattled from my mouth on the same breath.
Even when the back deck was just an outline of postholes
and chalk, my father still hung his feeder from the dying tree
to tempt nuthatches and tanagers and the red-bellied woodpecker
that shelled sunflower seeds in the long cinch of his beak.
I had just stepped from the shower when my father pounded
on the bathroom door: come look, come quick. Sheathed
in a bath towel, I hurried to the kitchen, saw him point
out the glass door at the hawk scattering the sparrows.
He clinched his talons in the woodpecker’s breast, red and deeper
red. There was not much struggle. The long mouth gawped
as the hawk yanked feathers from its neck, plucked it alive.
A thin moan hacked from its throat.
Its eyes were open.
I would like to tell you that I squeezed my lip between my teeth
and listened to my father when he said it was a natural cycle.
I was sixteen, and I knew everything. I thought I understood
death. I would like to tell you that I looked back at the doomed bird
and did not see the buttons of my mother’s favorite jacket
stamped on its clouded eyes. I would like to tell you anything
but that, half-naked and trembling, I ran back to the bathroom
to disappear in a cloud of steam. Anything but that four years
later, when my mother called and said hospice,
I knew, already, exactly what would happen.