That Call

by Małgosia Halliop

Like a red-tailed hawk’s—but off-pitch, too low in the treeline—
has fooled me more than once, until I caught the streak
of blue and black and the tale-telling accusation: sneak! sneak!
Blue jays mask as predators. Little birds scatter.
And I—watchful, wary, sometimes catastrophic—
listen to the warnings, try to read the signs.

When I first saw the word covid I read it as corvid,
and pictured the murder of crows that once settled
over the cedars past my parent’s wide windows
as I stood with my young son and watched:
the raucous pumping of air, the masses of bodies
dropping down from on high like a sudden contagion.

Then, last month, a kettle of vultures circled above us,
stirring the wide pot of the sky—like a dark-winged
cauldron of endings. Walkers stopped on crowded streets
to look up and point. Cathartes, purifier, bone-brightener:
what did you encircle? What are you transforming?

And the mockingbird, yesterday, high on the hydro tower,
cycling through sounds like a car alarm—peals and moans
and laughter and heartache—each wild change a doorway;
a threshold I wasn’t expecting to cross.

Death, when you come, will you come like the jay?  
The mockingbird? A contagion of crows?
A cauldron of vultures—all silent drama and distance?

Or will you alight like the migrating bluebird
we glimpsed by the ponds in the old brickyard last week?
Like a guide. Like the answer to a question.   


Małgosia Halliop immigrated to Canada from Poland as a child, and has lived in Toronto for close to thirty years. In the past decade, she has been a writer, editor, artist, wildlife tracker, and nature educator. For some years she also homeschooled her two kids. She has had poems published in Prairie Fire, Event, Literary Mama, Parentheses Journal, and elsewhere.

Image: Patrick Hendry

Image description: A blue-black bird flying in a white sky.