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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 9: August 2021
Poem: 229 words
By Robbi Nester


Yesterday, large birds, vultures and golden 
eagles, fell out of the sky in Arizona, stricken 
down by heat. I once held an eagle owl, 
light on my arm despite its impressive size. 
With all that armature alone, curved talons, 
beak like a scimitar, it should have weighed 
my arm down like a stone, and yet it didn’t, 
barely enough to bow a branch. I learned 
that hollow feathers buoy the birds in flight, 
insulate in winter and in summer, shield 
the body, pink and diminished underneath 
all that striated plumage. Yet this architecture 
didn’t help. What had been light fell like 
a sodden sandbag to the ground, breaking 
windshields, knocking grazing cattle 
to their knees. Think of the canaries 
miners used to carry caged into the dark. 
They tell us what’s to come. But we know 
already from experience: where hillsides 
dry to brittle brown, flames will rise 
like spirits, making their own weather, 
taking down the tallest trees. Frowning 
at the cloudless sky, we vow to change, 
and yet our lives continue as they always 
have—morning shower, feeding the cat, 
checking the latest news. Immanent disaster 
cannot blunt the appetite or quell the thirst, 
keep the ants from finding the ripest peaches 
in the bowl. Routine won’t help us when the 
very air ignites, when birds, the messengers 
that go before us, fall from the skies. 



—Written in response to Large Birds Are Dropping From The Arizona Skies As Temperatures Rise, an article by Luana Steffen in Intelligent Living (24 June 2021)

Robbi Nester
Issue 9, August 2021

is the author of four books of poetry, including an ekphrastic chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and three collections: Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014). She has edited three anthologies; the latest is The Plague Papers, available online at Poemeleon Journal. Her poems, reviews, essays, and articles have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, including Aeolian Harp VI, Book of Matches, Cultural Daily, Gargoyle, Live Encounters, Muddy River Review, North of Oxford, Rhino, Tampa Review, Tiferet, Verdad, and Verse-Virtual.

Author’s website: www.robbinester.net

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

After Blossom, ekphrastic poem after an etching by Phil Greenwood in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 3, May 2020)

Three Poems by Robbi Nester in Verse-Virtual (January 2020)

Law of Attraction, ekphrastic poem after Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, in Verse-Virtual (May 2019)

Night Tunnel, ekphrastic poem after a painting by Robert Rhodes, Philadelphia Night Train, in The Ekphrastic Review (21 April 2016)

The Locusts, ekphrastic poem after a collage of the same name by Mary Boxley Bullington, in The Ekphrastic Review (13 October 2015)

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