In the lot of a two-pump gas station off 81
I am going on six after the Christmas of 1999
and my father’s arms are thin and strong
as he stands me on his shoulders. You can see them
in the photograph even through his winter coat,
even though you can’t see the bird at all, not even
the flick of a wing-end in the faded print.
My body looms terribly, the mountains
behind us, and though I’ve asked,
nobody remembers the slow flutter of the heartbeat,
the contrast of the cardinal with the snow—
not my mother with the camera, not my father
who begged the picture—not even I remember it,
really, the size of the thing, the loneliness.
Proof of nothing, the photograph hangs
in my parents’ living room, an image from a dream,
the sights and sounds too large and strange,
the bird invisible and unmoving, the mountains
too big behind us—And how did it get there,
to the side of that dirty bank? A prick of red
visible, moving under the winter sky,
it must have been tiny to hide so completely
in the cup of my hands, and when my mother
let the shutter close, turned the camera
to some sight more beautiful than my father
and I, was it the sky I gave the bird back to,
or did I drop it at my feet?
Alexandra Lestón was born on the Gulf Coast and raised in Brooklyn. She is currently an undergraduate student at the City University of New York, where she studies Comparative Literature and Global Cultural Studies. This is her first published piece.