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Lee Ann Roripaugh


Young swallow stuck deep in the craw of your stair landing’s untidy diaphragm.

All day, cats shoving throaty vowels through the back door’s scrim.

At first, a mysterious disconsolate rustling among plastic sacks.  Glimpse of sideways eye. Pull back a box to release a twittery ricochet around the bare light bulb before a tired black fan tacks itself to the wall.

(Something bat-like about this flat cling to vertical, photographer’s cape of dark wing.)

You open the mouth of door on the landing below, hoping fresh air will guide the swallow out through the narrow stairwell’s slender neck. 

More awful swoop and bash when you try to shoo it down the stairs.

So you scoop it up in a checkered dishcloth. Scared to hold too tight. Or not too tight enough. Small blunt head’s panicked swivel between your thumbs. 

Confusion on the damp lawn, then a crooked launch to rainy trees.

(An opera singer whose voice was permanently wrecked in a car crash keeps a medical model of the human head on the piano.  Dizzying flower on her silk turban leaning in toward the bright whorls of muscle, ribboned brain, and basted vein.  Her fingers smoothly unpack the throat for her students—unpuzzling muscles, larynx, palate, epiglottis.)

Swallow:  How strange to hold something not meant to be held.

Exhale: Breathing out the bruised bird. Was it a song?  Or was it a choking?

Glottal Stop: Too-long held breath.  The letting go, the unraveled kite-string unsorrowing.