Poem of the Week | November 19, 2008

This week we’re featuring “The feather itself is not alive,” by Jenny Gillespie.   The poem is previously unpublished.  Jenny Gillespie received her M.A. in poetry from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004.  Her work has been featured in Meridian, Borderlands,and Front porch.  She has lived in Virginia, Paris, Texas, Rhode Island, and finally, Chicago.  She is also a musician and songwriter who will release her debut album Light Year in 2009.

I work at a children’s magazine group called Cricket, and am often taken by certain phrases put plainly yet poetically for a younger audience.  In one of the science magazines we publish, there was an article on feathers; one of the author’s points was to assure the reader that “the feather is not alive.”  I found the statement striking and odd, and started to write an argument against it.  There’s nothing stranger than finding a sleek, huge feather on a city street.

“The feather itself is not alive”

A wing looks puny,
almost human
without its feathers.

Delicate, wrong lobe,

more fingerling than wing.

But the way a loose feather
nobly adjusts to air,

you don’t think of ink,
ladies’ hats like jarring nests,

smashed flashes of beak
beneath the wet score of wheels.

Gummed with egg-yellow light,
it portends the nerve of grace.

It could dance away from your hand:

once chipped from
the psyche of flight,

now returned by the wind,
an ally to all flying things
who honor its codes and tides.