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Five Poems, by Ewa Chrusciel


A baby titmouse is tucking itself under my elbow. Its beak ajar to let out a tiny snore. I remove it gently; I need to type notes from my session with the Himalayan griffon. But it resists and tucks itself under my neck. I keep writing with my head bent to the right, which makes my notes rhythmic. Other tits arrive—they scatter the paper, attacking the ink bottle with beaks. I keep stashes of cheese and nuts in my drawer. Three tits adopt a skidding approach: The breeze of giddy wings flutters my pages and for a split second paper birds join the game. They are fascinated by the law of gravity and they push the pencils from my desk. I see curiosity in their eyes, a tiny-winged idea: “Why do these long creatures, dressed as trees and metallic tails not take off?” They pierce the pencils to see if they will rise. They don’t.

They swarm and squeak and emit swear notes…

Tired of the gravity game, they outstretch their wings on the part of the paper where the Sun falls. They lie now flat on their breast with beaks half open—sunbathing. I decide to nap. They notice the change of my position and move to my pillow to slide down on their butts with their legs outstretched. I get back to my desk and open my drawer with cheese. One tit gets hold of cheese morsel first; the others chase him.

Flames in their eyes—ruffled feathers—tits on the floor now—feet overclocked, rolling around—shrill notes—feathers flying.



On the solemn occasion of my pneumonia,
my mother performs the ritual of cupping,
bańki, in Polish. She brings me tiny torches,
lights a match
and heats up each glass
cup and sucks it to my back.

New colonies pop up
with chiefs and warriors:
Soon there are volcanoes, flesh
erupting into valleys.
My back bubbling in seismic shifts.

Black ash shed
ring by ring, a loon in distant waters

They vanish and return
in ripples of red

to quench the fires in me
to appease my four humors
to restore my balance.


A poem is a ravenous flock of snow buntings, an apocalypse of the air. Mad in its dazzlement. How did they get here? Prancing gleefully, feeding on poem’s madness. At certain times, they are flakes of snow—diamonds shimmering, all facets at once, migrant words flashing. Other times, they resemble giant bees, hungry for virgins and sinners, and too otherworldly for prose.

If the poem is a snow bunting? Winding, treacherous—you need to wrestle it like Jacob did the Angel. Its otherness will bless, and wound.


What did the professor say when a student showed up with a globe covered in poop? It’s a cliffhanger…

Do we imitate birds or birds, us? A mama hornbill seals herself in with her own poop and stays two months to protect her young. Her nose is a ponderous tool for accruing dung. As a child I used to smell my panties until my mother warned me: A hoopoe chick will throw urine in your face if you poke its nest for sentimental purposes.


The bird comes in with an unrecognizable tril tr p prrrtr

The notes are arrhythmic. It misunderstands other birdcalls. Frantic, neurotic. Low self-esteem. Rather hard to detect—looks like some cross between an American robin and a European sparrow—drab colors. Due to its mental state, no doubt.

It has no affiliations.

It must have crossed some borders. It’s a bird with an accent. I need to enter a code to get paid, so I select: foreign bird with border syndrome. No avian passport (or it’s expired).

Look, bird, you shuffle your tunes from one flora to another. Most birds are migrants but the trajectory’s clear: home—dumpster field or South American rainforests—back home.

Here, we have a disruptive path of cliffs and lacunas: unknown destinations.

Horror vacui.

It seems this bird tries harder than the others. It works on poetry when looking for a mate. But due to identity issues, it will be hard for it to find a species. Restless, ever adapting, its flashes of paranoia are clues to the dictatorship it once fled.

I offer meds. It refuses. I offer a migration-displacement support group. I invite backyard birds over; we perch in a circle. We use an app: Create your own migration. They fill the fields, which get projected onto a board. The communal experience is grand—we are all on the same flight. But the border bird keeps apart.

Pride is an issue. It will take a solitary flight marked by suffering. Why should it settle for less, sell its proud soul for affluent demons of pharmaceuticals?

It is heartbreaking, but its flight will be up & down—erratic. A hard life does not mean ugliness, I tell it. And the more it buffets the wind, the stronger its wings and spirit will be. By never settling for less, it plows towards paradise.


  • Ewa Chrusciel is a bilingual poet and a translator. Her books in English include Of Annunciations, Contraband of Hoopoe, and Strata. She has also published three books in Polish: Tobolek, Sopilki, Furkot. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Boston Review, Jubilat, Colorado Review, Laurel Review, Spoon River Review, and more. She is an associate professor of creative writing and poetry at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire.

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