The Charm of Goldfinches

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 — 

 

              whose words…?

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

Creator Spotlight:

Crystal Sidell

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.

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