“Metempsychosis” by Madeleine DeFrees

After a week, unbalanced on one foot, I know why
they call the great blue heron
Big Cranky. Some farmers call them cranes, as if
they were mere weightlifters, which
in a sense, they are.

I watch the big bird from
an evil star, honking across the sky. Every day
I drag my plaster-of-Paris leg past the archer
on one knee lying in wait, past hunters
riding full tilt across the Karastan rug to their
hounds. I would have made a great

heron with my
movable metatarsal, shifting my bulk to the front of
my foot, although my surgeon implies
that I’m not a fully involved human. He saws through
bone, inserts

three screws to help it fuse and pins
four toes to point them in a northerly
direction. Why do I think of animal rights and tales
of vivisection? When I fly south in my wheelchair,
appendages neatly folded, at other
times extended,

my wingspread matches the Great Blue’s.
We are, in truth, the upper crust of
heronry, brooding and solitary. Days go by as we
flap toward bodies of water, our croaks and calls

too often unreturned. I am worn down
to a wren, to the hollow
bone and broken flight that will not mend. Beyond
the riverbank, my semicircular canals
refuse to balance. Yet I do my best to sing, my

last year’s nest under the wing of nine full choirs
of pagan muses and Christian
angels. Each day I put my trust in transmigration.

Madeleine DeFrees
Blue Dusk (2001)

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