by Susan O’Dell Underwood

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13: 7)

You think at first the birds
are loblolly pine cones thudding to the porch
after the night-before storm.
But they flutter, two black-capped chickadees,
their chase-in-flight broken by the window
you have only just now washed sky blue.

There is nothing to be done
but kneel down, like this, and bear witness.
Look into the black-eyed blink of suffering,
and coo your comfort at the beaks which cannot speak,
opening and shutting, necks straining at their ruin.

One chickadee on its plump side struggles
crooked, legs curled in anguish, digging
against its racing breast.
Its mate rests upright, blue beautiful claws splayed,
immobilized. You smooth its ebony crown,
even as your self sinks, thinking
that its dying will take all day.

Only then the seeming worst-hurt bird leaps up and flies,
a ragged path, and only up
onto the window sill, but then the second, too.
They flicker in tandem onto the wavering hemlock branch
above, then out of your little life.

Isn’t it right that you walk away shaken, thinking
their revival could have gone another way?
It could have been you weren’t there to see
and never saw at all,
or, even seeing, gave up waiting for the answer.


SUSAN O’DELL UNDERWOOD directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. She and her husband teach but devote as much time as possible to a small publishing company, Sapling Grove Press, which publishes the work of under-served artists, photographers, and writers in Appalachia. Besides two chapbooks (From and Love and Other Hungers), her poems are published in many journals and anthologies, including Oxford AmericanCrab Orchard Review, and most recently TQ14.


Photo: “Chickadee” by Marc Dominianni