The birds are always a surprise,
the way they dart among the airy metal trusses
and peer at the shoppers,
tilting their heads with worry,
as if we could reach them that high up.
You can’t help but wonder how they survive
with everything packaged
and put away, what door they came in through,
or if they will make it back out. It’s hard to think
that the sparrows in the cereal aisle,
waiting for a spill, can slowly starve.
That the janitors will scoop their still-warm bodies
into bins, quickly, during the empty nights,
when nobody sees.
Really, this place is full of undoings
that people don’t usually notice,
the things we put in our carts that used to be living,
but more too, the employees who wonder how to pay rent,
the relationships quietly unraveling, couples not speaking,
grandparents slowly leaving lonely houses
less and less at a time,
the children already starting to undo their parents,
getting farther and farther away from them in the aisles,
some of them, and you can see
that eventually they’ll get out of reach completely.
Still, the shot surprises us. The thought of it,
an opening mouth that was just beginning to say
Because this morning, like us,
she might have watched the dark-eyed juncos
scratching for seeds in the snow, bright and delighted.
Because she awoke like us and dressed,
because she ate breakfast,
and her life, like ours, was just as it had been
every other day, something from before
that carries over with us,
and something else always just about to begin.
January 4, 2015
[ download audio]
Chera Hammons: “I was shocked when I heard that a two-year-old boy had shot and killed his mother in Wal-Mart with her own concealed handgun. I kept thinking about what it would be like to carry that sort of thing, for the child and for his father, for the manager that took the gun from the boy’s hand, all the ripples something like this can have. What the mother would have had time to see and feel. It’s the sort of thing that, if you let yourself think about it too much, is enough to break your heart.” ( website)