Ars Poetica 2022: 3rd Place

Dead Bird: Another Mental Illness Poem

I want to write about the lavender-necked dove flying
wildly at my window, headfirst, at full speed, banging into
the glass, trying to enter an artificial sheet of air, but

I thought I had finished writing poems about my son’s
schizophrenia, which is to say I hoped that I could go on
to write with a cloud-gray feather dropped from a lost bird
a quill with white nib I dip into a bottle of fountain pen ink

try to focus on this bloodied, feathered body dying in an
awkward position on my outside window-sill, this young
little bird with a broken neck who will never fly again
or sing kah-and-coo songs

after my son went off his meds the last time, after the police
the locked hospital ward, after the scare we gave each other
I knew I would keep writing about him for the rest of my life
there’s no way not to, as long as his world is a window, shut
pretending to be an extension of sky

I am yoked mother to son, tied to guilt, for brush-scrubbing
the window, for rubber-scraping and newspaper-wiping
the glass into clean, clear invisibility

I read this week that there is still no cure, a billion song birds
die each year in, head-butting a hard, glass sky reflecting back
feathered shimmer, sequin and glassy wings

all I can do is watch a new current of air snag a fluttering piece
of fluff, carry it to a smear of blood on the glass where caught
and captured, it sticks.

–> Eileen Malone


Judge’s Comments

3rd Place: Dead Bird: Another Mental Illness Poem

“A gorgeous, haunting, painful poem about what brings us to the page again and again is sometimes that deep mythic wound. This poem does powerful work weaving the analogy of cleaning the window a bird has mistaken for sky as both balm and wound, as inevitable and grievous, the way of mothering through guilt, the perpetual cycle of self-blame. The focus on the painful and ugly aspects of mothering here captured me completely. Look, this poem seems to say. Don’t look away.” 

–> Jennifer Givhan

Riddled with Arrows


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