Bird Painter

by Guy Kettelhack
About Poetry Forum
Second Place, November 2007
Judged by E. Ethelbert Miller


I didn’t use to like the ones with birds in them—
she’d paint alluring skies and water—minerally
brimming glints—then seem to feel she had
to punctuate their ambiguity with some expected

order—carefully assorted gulls: culled illustrations
out of greeting cards—obligatory birdies dotting
gleaming shards of sky and sea to add cliché
to the topography: some expected notion of what

ought to be above, beyond, around an ocean:
turned the beach from vague-and-haunting-lone
to Jones. But I was an elitist prig. Now I look at
each meticulously painted sprig of wing and breast

and tail and beak: and almost hear my mother
speak: each fine careful flying thing belies her
death: bears witness to what’s left—lifts the gulls
and deftly keeps them up: her artist’s breath.


The voice in this poem had an artist for a mother. Memories survive death. How often do we overlook the work, the creativity of one's parents. Why are we so critical of their lives? If we could see with their eyes, we would understand the beauty of birds. We would discover our own wings. --E. Ethelbert Miller

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