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After Watching Snowy Owls,
Our Friend Loses Her Mind

by Cynthia R. Pratt

It wasn't the brilliant white
swirled with dark grey patches of feathers,
or the cluster of owls on driftwood,
nor their bodies mixing
then unmixing with saltgrass,
a magician's trick of the eye,
that dismantled all thought.

As she contemplated the reason her mind
slipped like fog between estuary and town,
from cottonwoods to her driveway, she wondered
about the questioning eyes, the heads slowly turning
reminding her of women she might know,
somewhere, in some past.

Or maybe the skid
came from the silence between
three owls sitting on a telephone pole,
having something (but what?) in common,
appearing wise but not speaking aloud
this knowledge, as if she, too, knew
the secret passing through the wind,
touching her mouth.

Owls drifted out of the fog,
then slid behind it, shape-shifters
from birds to ghosts, and back.
Their faces almost human
before they disappeared again.
She thought she perched with them,
viewing the mudflats, whispering lines of poems.

All the long drive home, she remembered the tilt
of bird heads, slight, but approving of the woman
who spoke to them by reciting Merwin's Vision,
Repeating to the owl muses in her head:

    flows to what is unseen
    passing in part
    through what we partly see.

So that at home, when her three friends called
her very first words were, "Where are you calling from?"
amazed that snowy owls really could speak,
had wanted all along to give her their special gift,
wanted to share words that fell softly as snow.
When she finally knew the truth
all she had to offer in atonement
was the loss of her mind,
sure that it drifted out with the tide.

And, of course, her perceptive friends cocked,
ever so slightly, their heads
covered with speckled white, and dark hair,
and hung up, saying nothing,
understanding everything unspoken.


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