how many sailors lost at sea ever
return? she learns to live without her love
but the days are dull in an empty house —
meals for one, no flannel to mend, silence
except for the Labradors lapping from
their water bowls. then, a visitor on
the first day of spring — a goldfinch perched on
the mailbox, a fresh stamp of lemon and
onyx too bold to miss: pencil tail, chest
proud-puffed, trilling sweet nothings happ’ly on
still air. nectar attracting nectar. on
the magnolia tree, vibrant bulbs that
resist dimming even as the hours wane.
day after day they return to the yard,
creatures too lovely to go unseen. three.
seven. thirteen. twenty-nine. thirty-five.
they multiply until she loses count.
what do they want? horizontal, from limb
to limb, and vertical to the crown, she
traces invisible lines, heart rabbit-
thump-kicking when she unlocks the pattern.
is it coincidence? this ornithic
gathering in the shape of a letter?
she grabs a pad and scribbles “d”— dear? death?
desolate? tries to imagine what comes
after, when the birds take wing and scatter.
a new routine roots itself to twenty-
three Stillwell Lane. each dawn, she rocks on the
front porch swing and waits for the chorusing
charm of goldfinches to alight on the
tree. chirp-hop, untangle their wings, reveal
curves and lines of the next symbol. one per
day, one word every few. she collects them
in a fever, eager to discover
what sentence will form, what their letters will
read. she sobs when the message is complete,
when the goldfinches leave, and the blue jays
return to the magnolia. waxen
melancholia-joy coaxes the chill
from her marrow as the nights lose their heat.
don’t worry, love. I am with you always.
she rolls the inked scrap of unlined paper
into a glass trinket silver-chained to
her throat. with you… always… the voiceless breath
threads the gaps in her days, shortens the once
so-very-long nights. she will survive, she
decides, she’s not alone — weathered, yes, but
whole. in the autumn her missing sailor
appears — whole, yes, but weathered. bandaged head,
a crutch, still-pink scars on the arms and chest.
how many sailors lost at sea ever
return? it’s a veritable dream come true.
except… hovering at the blurred edges
of her resurrected happiness, there’s
a blooming wariness: the worrisome
weight hanging from her neck; unvoiced questions,
a gaze she feels tracking every movement
she makes in the house, in the yard —
A native Floridian, Crystal Sidell grew up playing with toads in the rain and indulging in speculative stories. When she’s not busy with librarianship or writing, she’s usually looking for ways to spoil her pets or stopping traffic to rescue animals. Visiting other corners of the world inspires her greatly, and she hopes to someday visit Bruges and Antarctica. Her work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in 34 Orchard, 805 Lit, diet milk, The Dread Machine, Frozen Wavelets, opia, and others.
Photo by Luciani K. on Unsplash
Author of “The Charm of Goldfinches”
What inspired you to write this poem?
A large magnolia stands in my front yard, and there are almost always birds perched on the branches. I wasn’t sure which type of bird I wanted to focus on for this poem, but I imagined a character observing this tree and seeing something inexplicable taking place among the leaves. When I remembered that a group of goldfinches was called a “charm” (how serendipitous!), the story magically fell into place.
What do you hope readers take from this poem?
Since childhood, I have been in awe of the natural world – birds, especially. I hope “charm of goldfinches” succeeds in evoking this sense of wonder and appreciation in the reader.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this poem has been through?
I was extremely fortunate with “charm of goldfinches,” as I wrote it specifically for Apparition Lit’s themed issue. Before submitting it, I went through five drafts over a course of three weeks. This was one of those rare (for me) instances where the first draft practically wrote itself and subsequent drafts required only minor tweaks.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
I’m always on the lookout for exciting new poems to read! Lately, I’ve really enjoyed browsing Claw & Blossom and Crow & Cross Keys. I love the fusion of the natural world and the surreal that can be found in the works published here.