“Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings…?” ~ “The Swan,” Mary Oliver

Most days I don’t know rightly what I see, or what I feel. Sometimes the river lightens, sometimes it turns its back and climbs back into its dark bed. Whatever floats on its surface then is heavy as a portent though it makes no sound. There is just breathing, the slightest pulse made by flowers and leaves, brown twigs that have fallen on its skin and are whisked away. But in my class tonight the students are watching a film about the Chilean writer. And when they come to the part where he speaks to the postman of the miner who comes up from underground and commands the poet to write of them, write of their struggle— soot flocked on his face like a mask— I think I sense more than see the slightest ripple, an adjustment of some of the bodies pressed to the seats. What will it take, what rearrangement of atoms in the air? A passing thunderstorm pelts at the windows. And afterward someone gets up to crack the window open, to release the humidity in the room. The evening is so cool, so layered with sound and a thumbnail of fragrance from magnolia trees in bloom outside the building. If you spoke to me of wings I would tilt my head, scan the sky from habit. This is not the wonder, but that it takes courage to remind of how those lifting, beating arms are yoked to a machine, how they are stitched, flag-like, to an architecture of overlapping bones: complex shell encasing the heart, cobbled of honey and wax, of twine and feathers.

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