Melissa Stephenson


Six Days in the Crabapple 


Rocking her to sleep upright to ease the earache
you notice robins by the dozen fill the forty-foot crabapple—
a tree some find hard to believe in. You worry about
the late-season snow, the pressure on her eardrum,
the cold-snap in the forecast. Below zero, it says,
and here they flew all this way gambling on spring.

An engine-seizing cold grips the valley
and you wonder where they’re hiding.
Branches stand stark, half-dressed
in last season’s red fruit.

Her fever lifts, the valley warms, the birds return.
All Monday they feast. One moment here, another gone—
a lone falcon spinning its head, hunting. Every hour
you check the upstairs window, eyes level
with robins, with falcon, robins, falcon—
a high-stakes dance from which there are few exits.

On the way to the coffee shop you pass a man who sits
every morning in his truck and through binoculars
watches the sky for you-don’t-know-what:
elk herds on the mountain, your flock of robins,
a message woven in contrail patterns, weather-mapping
the clouds so he can claim he knew it, knew
it was coming the whole day long.

Dusk and the robins populate the tree—remains
of the fruit now staining the snow a spent amber.
You talk her into eardrops to be sure, tuck her in with a story
about a little girl who survives all predators, seal it with a kiss.
Back at the window you consider the mechanism of instinct
that tells the birds to leave the tree at dark:
wind, scent, dimming light, or magnetic pull?

Stop. Watch it climbing through the window, above
your bank account, your half-broke tooth, over
the man you once loved whole (her father, who
once loved you), over your sleeping child,
the melting snow, stray feathers:
alight on bird-less branches now,
a third-quarter moon rising.



Melissa Stephenson’s writing has appeared in publications such as The Rumpus, The Washington Post, ZYZZYVA, and Fourth Genre. Her memoir, Driven, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018. She lives in Missoula, Montana with her two kids.