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“Couch Surfer” (2015), by Hope Gangloff

Issue 109/110, Summer/Fall 2020

May 1, 2020

My husband, the business analyst,
                                          has such good ideas for what I should do
these days. Yesterday, it was an online limerick workshop. 
                                          Today, as we walk the bike trail along the river,
even the geese social distancing, 
                                          waddling away in their family units,
he says I should write a book, The Birds of the Great Miami.
                                          All I know of birds would fit in a limerick.
He is trying to make me laugh,
                                          so I do, but I keep my thoughts on the birds.
The red-winged blackbird we hear before we see, 
                                          having learned his chit, chit, chit la ree on a muddy March walk
in a fen—a word we had to look up
                                          on the internet which bid us look down
to the cattails for a startle of red.
                                          Map-challenged seagulls dive the puny waves;
the turkey vultures circle the path, 
                                          waiting for our stumble. 
I am a little weary, I admit;
                                          five miles forward,
five miles back
                                          to where I started from.
Friend, what else is there to do
                                          but learn to use the word undulating in a sentence; 
no other way to name the wind’s pull and release 
                                          of tall grasses between us and the river,
while the blotches of clouds overhead 
                                          are still as if the vultures revolve in a virtual sky
behind a Zoom meeting
                                          instead of a life. 
On the cracked asphalt trail 
                                          someone has chalked a tweety bird,
The token bird of the Great Miami,
I joke,
but the red-winged blackbird is the totem I claim
                                          for us.Farther along,
the artist wrote, in the same yellow chalk, 
                                          fainter now, words fading into the path:
“We will be OK.” 

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Pauletta Hansel

Pauletta Hansel is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry. Her writing regularly appears in venues such as The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and Poetry Daily. From 2016 to 2018, Hansel served as Cincinnati’s first poet laureate.