The 2River View

Jane McKinley

The End of Summer

We're halfway through supper
before we notice the sparrow
dining next to us on the terrace,
partaking of tiny seeds from bluegrass
growing in the cracks, so unafraid
we fear he must be injured
or ill, unable to escape, easy
prey to the neighborhood cats,
settled so low on the bricks
his breast feathers touch,
leading us to imagine a mangled
claw tucked underneath,
so I tell the story of the one-
legged chickadee who returned
each winter to my parents' feeder,
and we watch as the sparrow
makes small wobbled hops
from brick to brick, his breath
labored, pushing out his sides.
Behind him, a mouse runs down
the foundation of the house,
disappearing into a large clump
of sage, and before we can name
what we're feeling, my husband
stands up, and the sparrow flaps
his wings, rising into sudden night,
high above the climbing rose,
now smothered in white
by the sweet autumn clematis.

The girl who wanted to be a river

It hadn't always been like that.
There was a time she endured
the way a stone does, with water
washing over her, wearing away
the surfaces, or fire licking
her edges black. She could bear
the cold then, the way snow feels
when it's beginning to stick, but
things can change, and so did she.
She learned to breathe through leaves
plastered on her face, to admire
the oak's asymmetry, to move
at a stone's pace without a hill
in sight. She wanted to rush,
to babble, to flood the world
with what, to her, was newfound,
but something held her back, as if
the stone she'd been had grown
into an obstacle, old ways dying
hard, tripping her up, bruising
her shins till they shone blue-black.
Still, she wanted to be a river,
to keep moving without losing
direction, to stream toward the sea
as if it were everything, as if once
the fresh had mingled with the salt,
she'd never dream of turning back.

Jane McKinley, a professional oboist, is artistic director of the Dryden Ensemble, a Baroque chamber group
based in Princeton. Vanitas received the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize and will be published soon by
Texas Tech University Press. contact