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15 1/2

by Ailish Hopper

               you’re done here
says the woman,

not recognizing
               her new neighbor cutting
                               his own grass.

An echo of, from the kitchen,
               my aunt, who yelled, Jack!

                               Why don’t you get that
                               nigger to come here

and mow
                 the lawn?

                               And later,
an ebony-skinned man came

                               in a khaki cap, removed
               at her front door.
A yankee from DC, I watched

               as if I could discern the cause.
All progress, un–

               as the goldfinch when young,
colored, in early spring. At 15 1/2 I am sure

               I can get
                                to the bottom
of this. Tranquility—Blood
               that connects. The finch clings

                                to feed—
                                Youth! Restless!

                                                 Relentless—On towering stalks
               that threaten, sway.
                                                                My aunt, an old-school
               Alabaman, laughs and jokes,

               offers the man
                                sweet tea
               the granules soft now, melted away
                                                                                —A blur, a blur

                                                                                               of Ours
                                were well-treated, and
                                                 Blessed to die before

               his son, from river delivered
                                to clammy ground.

The finch is willing, will

                                even the spiniest
                                                 seeds. And only

                                by this, appears,
                                                 in fall—
                                Yellow, astonishing
                                —Neon shock

                                                 —Not new, just

               This one

                                who is not by past, but

               by future, made.


Ailish Hopper’s chapbook, Bird in the Head, was selected by Jean Valentine for the 2005 Center for Book Arts prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tidal Basin Review, and elsewhere. She has received grants and fellowships from the Baltimore Commission for the Arts and Humanities, Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo. She lives in Baltimore and teaches at Goucher College. (10/2011)

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