Spr/Sum 04

Magpies and Orphans


     Two orphans sit in a tree cawing and plotting. Two magpies blow overhead like chimney ash. The birds are coalminers peering down at the open mouth of the tree. The children chatter like squirrels shaken in a birdcage. The boys trade punches and name their bruises after the islands they most closely resemble. All bruises are named Cuba. All magpies are orphans.
     Two children perch on an electrical wire slung low and limp between its two parental figures. Two magpies shoot marbles in the dirt and eye the leather belt that hums above them. Every so often a cloud belches out another orphan into the air. Soon the sky is full of them. The sun wears their dark bodies like an eye-patch.
     Two kids sit on a split rail fence molting. The feathers on their wings have been replaced with gum wrappers and old baseball cards. The orphans stand on a bough arguing over the last apple of summer. The tree bobs beneath the horizon, tethered by the roots that fan out beneath it like ants. The magpies are beginning to understand they may never have a family.
     Two birds in flight, making for the dirt road that parts the wheat like a corn snake. Two magpies watch from the dark keyhole already shedding its leaves for the winter. The orphans have a pact; they are never going back. The magpies beat the dust from their feathers and start toward the home. One wrestles with a cowlick as the other struggles to pull on its knickers with its beak. Their black feathers gleam purple in the dying light. Somebody’s got to love them.


Jamey Dunham’s prose poems have appeared in Sentence, Paragraph, Key Satch (el), Fence, Boston Review, and ACM, among other journals. His poem “An American Story” was included in the anthology Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Sinclair Community College, where he edits the journal Flights. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife and son.