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Winter Omen
by Cynthia Pratt

When the spotted towhee begins to speak,
all other birds settle quietly. Juncos
tilt their heads, chickadees hunker in the Dozier
dogwood, needing seats up front,
and the unwelcome starlings bristle, but crouch
down in the hawthorn waiting to take over.

The towhee eyes me knowing what is said
must be carried in a jar. Yes, that fragile:
those secret words soon to be uttered.
They are all mine to carry with me
through the dark season of mysterious beliefs.

His voice is soft to old ears, I must lean in to
where he perches on the feeder. The first sound
I make out, drops toward the wet ground
where I stand:

he trills, doing his best to not invite
others into the conversation. Then whispers,

your arms.
Be a cradle of sturdy branches,
for our days are short
and the world I know
will change, is changing, has changed.
Remember me for as long as you can.

The oracle bird flew back into the cedar
at the left side of the house, and
my eyes burned with the tears filling
the jar now heavy with what ifs because
I, too, pictured my extinction.


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