Quail on the Airfield

by Ellen Seusy
Winner, Editors’ Prize for Poetry, selected by Bianca Lynne Spriggs

In Texas, near the Gulf, a man wakes up
and pulls on coveralls and heavy boots.
He drives his truck along a narrow road
to the strip where jets line up for fuel,
heat already shimmering near the ground.

He works alone all day in the exhaust
and roar of jets, as planes take off and land.
He’s paid to save their engines from the birds.
All day, the heat accumulates; his clothes
go dark with grime and sweat, while sickening
fumes waver in the air. He knows this dance;
the quail softly tumble in his net.
He closes it to carry them across
the runway to where the tarmac ends, then
frees them in the sedge where he knows they nest.
Some mornings, when I would rather sleep
than go to work, I remind myself that
in Texas, near the Gulf, a man wakes up
and pulls on regulation boots, then goes
to sweep the quail gently in a net.

Ellen Seusy lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work has appeared in From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright, The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlanta Review, Blue Earth Review, and other anthologies and journals. She has been an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and she currently volunteers as a poet in schools.

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