Poem of the Week | April 15, 2019
“Blue Heron” Sjohnna McCray
This week we are delighted to present “Blue Heron,” a new poem by Sjohnna McCray.
Sjohnna McCray is the author of Rapture, winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. He has been a travelling English teacher going from the Bronx to Phoenix to Chicago to Savannah. He has published poems in Gargoyle, Shenandoah, the Southern Review and elsewhere. He received his MFA from the University of Virginia and lives with his husband and cat in Athens, Georgia.
When we first met, you stuttered as if the words
dipped down on the diving board of your tongue
before launching into air, the triple loops
of earnestness of those first talks.
We watched to see who’d ripple first, our eyes
hemmed twigs into nests of meaning. You seem
so wild to me—your pale neck and backwoods
habits. A luxury to see a man up-close.
You were as comfortable in your blues
as any singer or heron skimming the river
and looking for food in its reflection.
You open your arms, the color
of sky and storm, flaunting your wingspan—
and there are no other arms for me.
Sometimes, poems will come to you in the oddest and most direct way. A friend may tell you a story and for whatever reason, you are able to clearly see it. Your brain starts working overtime to put words and images together in a way that makes sense and honors the story you were told. This is how Blue Heron was given to me by my husband. So many of my poems begin with him; I think he has replaced my father as the entryway into art and sentiment. Some writers may read, drink or meditate to get into that sacred mind space. Usually, I clean the house, do a load of laundry or watch a really sappy movie before I can begin writing. George Michael or old Streisand does the trick too. This time, my husband called me from the School of Social Work on his lunchbreak. He is working toward his master’s so we can be a poet/social worker power couple. This suits me just fine because I like clipping coupons. He calls me and there is excitement and awe in his voice. He describes sitting by the river that runs past the school and a huge heron landing in the nearby water. He is shaken by the bird’s beauty. It was a story where I knew I wanted to work with that imagery, so I filed it away for later. Months go by and I finally unpack it. As I’m thinking of my husband and this bird, a love poem emerges. We have been together for 20 years and we can easily be in silence with one another. But in those early months, when we were young, earnest and frivolous—talking was such an electric and cautious affair. That is why the poem begins the way it begins. In the end, I have no choice but to give in—to him and the majesty of that bird.
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