On the Death of Your Middle Son

The Greeks and Romans believed it:
that the swallow, the mysterious bird darting
between trees, skimming the surface of fields,
carried the souls of dead children within their breast
a liaison between the living and the gods.

What is it that I want to tell you now of
dying children and birds. What comforts?

Outside the hospital window black crows flutter
across power lines, stare over parked cars and automatic doors.
You sleep for minutes, poised like a scarecrow.
You build a nest of hospital sheets around him.
You feed him with spoons and the nurses smile dutifully.

Our silence is broken by the chirps of complex machines.
I follow the waves of light and numbers that only doctors understand.

There is no peace in the dove; no fear is stirred by vultures.
I watch you fly slow circles around the bed, brushing away
white coats perched by the door. I want to tell them
about swallows and the easing of souls from their mother’s arms,
how the Greeks and Romans believed it.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

What is it about habits and cassocks that capture the imagination of even secular audiences?
Ashley McKinlessJuly 21, 2017
Why Ron Hansen will never read the Gospels the same.
Ron HansenJuly 20, 2017
Photo by Aphex82
For the brackish water, and electricity / That charge our thoughts and spines.
William O'LearyJuly 20, 2017
An immigration rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in April. The U.S. bishops' migration committee chair in a statement on July 18 urged President Donald Trump to "ensure permanent protection" for youth under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
U.S. bishops urge Trump administration "to continue administering the DACA program and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation."