From a great height

By Natalie Taylor
Feature image: Dead Thrush, 16th Century by unknown artist

I find the baby quail blown
from its nest after an early summer

storm. Scoop the feathered dots
and stripes. Mom feeds it antibiotics

mixed with wet dog food on a toothpick.
It tilts its head to one side,

dark eye watching my face
as my sisters and I pray during

the procedure. Since I am the eldest,
I am put in charge.

I take it upstairs to my parents’ bedroom,
cradle the bird on my stomach

and sink into their down comforter.
A plastic owl, hung from a redwood beam,

swings from a squeaky nail
into the heat of that afternoon.

I dream I am falling. Falling.
It takes so long to fall.

Like the family prayers at 5 A.M.
followed by scripture study,

then chores,
then school.

When the ground rises up quick,
my hands jerk out to catch myself.

I wake to dark feathers and sweaty
palms. Carry the dead body

downstairs, offer it like a broken cup.
My sisters and I find a shoebox and shovel,

soft dirt. A fistful of dandelions.
I am 12 and old and so I pray.

I do not confess that I think
I have taken the life

I tried to save.
It will happen again

many years later, with my own baby.
A brief life

spent in a hospital bed
on machines that crackled like a microburst.

Surgeries so long they felt like
falling from a great height.

And though everyone disagrees,
I know it is all my fault.

I do not pray anymore.
But sometimes, I remember

watching that sham of a guardian,
the owl, swing back and forth.

Natalie Taylor earned a BFA in English with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Utah. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Eden’s Edge and her work has been published in 15 Bytes, Hubbub, Hunger Mountain, Kettle Blue Review, Rock & Sling, and Talking River. She won first place in the 2016 Utah Original Writing competition and was named a 2017 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer.

Feature image: Courtesy Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main. Image released under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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