Dan Fliegel

What the Poem Means
by Dan Fliegel

It’s better today while we visit against the tall windows
in the back of the house, looking out on the yard’s two
bird feeders, big, covered platforms on four-
by-four posts Pete sunk into concrete under the grass.

The summer, he says, had been good for orioles, both Baltimore
and orchard, and a pair of indigo buntings that came for the first time.
He’s in bed, and the cancer’s back, went from his gut to his bones,
which show, under the blanket and in his arms, thinner now.

Pete never cared much for poetry, said he didn’t
know why a poet won’t just come out and say
what he wants to say, say what the poem means.
Easier to say what this does than what it means: the pain in his pelvis

and spine so bad yesterday that the whole house knew it.
While my sister was dying I had stood in her backyard,
also watching birds come and go, and here they are
again, a parade, a silent avian litany, that we follow:

a red-headed woodpecker, juncos, chickadees
and nuthatches, sparrows and goldfinches, their fall color muted.
Now Pete’s blue eyes begin to roll back, but we’re not
ready for final goodbyes, so while he naps we’ll sit

just outside the open door and talk as the kids get loud and laugh.
Before we step out, he says he likes that sound, voices continuing
from another room. And there it is, at last, and there it goes:
green Indian summer under—spare and dark—late October oaks.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 3.

Dan FliegelDan Fliegel is a longtime public schoolteacher in Chicagoland. Poems from his manuscript, Road, River, Forest, are published or forthcoming in Adirondack Review, African American Review, Cold Mountain Review, Construction, Free State Review, and Jet Fuel. He is the poetry editor for TriQuarterly.

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