“Birdwoman” by Lexi Pelle

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2020: Editor’s Choice


Photograph of a crane leaping at another crane behind its back

Image: “Leaping Crane” by Kim Sosin. “Birdwoman” was written by Lexi Pelle for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2020, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Lexi Pelle


I hurried myself into this new life like it was a bullet
train that could leave without me. Violent. The steel
wool of an inner child’s drawing
of a rain gray cloud come to life
to tear the rest
of your T.V. dinner off your plate.

Turns out everything I imagined we could be
is not enough to scrub who we are

from the second stomach of my chest.
Turns out you really can’t change people
and now every romantic comedy is sighing
its Splenda-ed happy ending in my wake.

Some days I wash the windows so you will see
how clear the outside of our home has become

while it waits for me. Fold
your socks so that it always
looks like one is eating the other. Leave
the white shell shards in your eggs
so you won’t ever forget how much had to break
inside me to become
the kind of girl
that would fear you enough
to always make you breakfast. I am no cook.

I am just a bird married to a bird
thinking that is enough to stop this sad,

splendid sky
from falling us
out of this godless blue.
It is the anniversary of the day
I stopped talking
about going back to school.
Started learning how to love
to make you love me
and the daughters trapped
in all the pickles jars I was too weak

to open on my own.
How green this drowning has become.

How navy the nights
you came in
and I pretended to be asleep.
I was
knocking on the doors
of every pink dream and begging
them not to see me as a wolf.

The arguments
about traffic
and date night
and sex and bedtimes
and my family
and your family
and our family
and the chores
and the chore of discussing the chores
and the chore of keeping quiet over keeping clean
all fragranced in my hands like the discarded pith of an orange.

The delicate palmistry of a future
we to-do listed into a past

that would become the fight most travelled by.
The days that got us here
equal parts dull
and deli meated
and holy.
Memories such martyrs
for sacrificing themselves into a wide
and out of focus sea.

If forgetting is the only thing that can save us
then I will tear up every love poem I ever wrote to you.

The stanzas made out of Christmas cards
and sitcom laugh tracks.
A sliced,
but smiling soundtrack
to distort the silence.

See how my happiness backgrounds for you?
See how we are becoming those warnings about wildlife

with bottlecaps cupped
in their bellies?
How little
difference there is,
to a woman in love,
between danger and hope?

Those kisses that glitter like litter
does long after it’s been digested.

The silent photograph
our first daughter took of us
fighting at the family picnic.
The one that I framed
and then hid
so that the birdwoman inside it
could never get out.

In it, I am screaming,

at you.
My mouth opened so wide
that if she hadn’t been there,
if she hadn’t taken it,
I would have displayed it
on the mantelpiece
and told everyone
I was singing.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
November 2020, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “From the first line break, this poem is engaging—like a bullet train not a bullet. It grabs me, and for three pages never lets go, with as many twists and turns along the way as the first lines promise, traveling farther from the original image than seems possible. It’s a bit of a cliché to call a poem a journey, but this one truly is, and there’s something honest and intimate to find once we reach its powerful destination.”


Tonight’s guest on the Rattlecast is Skye Jackson! Join us live here

Rattle Logo