Today I’m featuring Elina Petrova’s “Things of the Sky.” This poem reminds me a bit of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” with its loosely related vignette structure — although I think Petrova does a better job of building cohesion across the length of the poem. Her work here is accessible and lovely, deftly balancing the lyrical and familiar.
I love also that it resolves into a quiet epiphany at the end: not the sweeping and epic sort that movie franchises are built on, but the furtively powerful kind that make you stop in the middle of the day, in the middle of a task, and take note that your life has moved, is moving, forward.
Things of the Sky
At dawn, I heard a cargo train whistling,
lifted a curtain and saw through fog
a white egret limping toward my lawn.
I broke rye bread and went outside
to approach him with crumbs.
A sparrow hops from one empty branch
to another. While peering at the sky,
my retina conjures smoky amoebas,
tiny transparent chains. It’s drizzly
and calm. The sudden red miracle
lands on a Chinese maple and whistles.
I miss your letters, Lao. A bird
never forgets his song. Why did I?
The gore-stained talon.
Eyes clear of apathy. A hawk
alights on my fence again
when the only clear patch
in the sky is lit against
a distant thunderstorm.
It’s nearly four PM, and the sun pierces
feathery clouds at such an angle that
a fragment of the horizontal arc glows
in them for almost twenty minutes –
copper-violet haze at the height
where ice crystals meeting sunlight blaze
like love in its unbearably pure form.
Passersby glance at the fire rainbow
and return to iPhones.
Yesterday, while gardening, I touched
the trembling blue dust on the wings
of a black swallowtail, overheard a song
that reached me to younger rings
of my tree trunk.
I translated its lyrics from Spanish:
What am I doing in this field? – I’m not
falling in love or singing. The larva
comes out of his silken prison
and turns into mariposa – a butterfly.
Cardinals are back to my tallow tree.
When I hear their trill, spot a scarlet
flutter on the lower branch,
my limp heart restores to rapture.
Scarlet leaves in the brightest cold sky—
colors of ecstasy like on a Chagall painting.
Workers replace the sewage collector
in the neighbor’s yard, speak rapid Spanish.
I put in earplugs to proof-read contracts
on the porch. Silver insides of maple leaves
now clap in silence, and an egret
with his feet pressed to the white plumage
floats above the roof in slow motion.
You are never alone, even in this petty
perimeter guarded with earplugs, and if
you put papers aside, there is magic
you used to notice in childhood—
a dragonfly, a bumblebee; even the drone
video of your listed bungalow that captures
the blues & scarlets, and you in the fisherman
jacket, looking up at the egret, with a foolish
smile of a ten times five-year-old.
Pearlescent riders and elephants
on the cerulean. The sword of a jet
trace dissipates. Feathery clouds
hasten above Forum of cumuli
sculpted to be soon destroyed.
Nothing has happened to you.
Until 2007 Elina Petrova lived in Ukraine and worked in engineering management. She published two poetry books in English (Aching Miracle, 2015, and Desert Candles, 2019) and one in her native Russian language. Elina’s poems have appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Texas Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature, Porter House Review, California Quarterly, FreeFall (Canada), Ocotillo Review, Poetry of the American Southwest series, Wicked Wit (Runner-Up Award for Public Poetry), and numerous anthologies. Find her poetry website by clicking here.