Slate Over Glass

By David Joy

When the tom answers the slate, he is closer
than I expect. There is a reason
they compare the call to thunder,
a sound that is felt as much in the center
of the chest as heard. Proximity demands
decision. I survey the immediate woods
and choose a wide tulip poplar to collapse
into—my torso now trunk, my legs spread
over leaf litter like exposed roots.

I hold my breath. I have to tell myself
not to hold my breath, that the inevitable will
be louder than just breathing, that
should I gasp for air the bird will hear me.

Are there times when trees tremble,
when roots must hold so steady they shudder?

First, I see the tom’s head periscope over the lip
of the saddle. He is careful and cautious,
craning his neck to study the oak flat eye
by weary eye. Suddenly, another head,
another body and bird, capes filtering
rim light like prisms, two faces drained
white as trilliums. The first bird swells
into strut and the second rushes forward
breaking that short-lived spell of fanned tail
and filled chest, the two of them now in a footrace
for what can only be one’s bedfellow.

There is a closet at the back of the heart
capable of fitting every drop
of blood in the human body.
Grown men should not be frightened by birds.

I hold still, my arms shake from holding.
How long can I pretend that I do not exist?
And in the final yards, will the birds believe me?

About the Author

David Joy lives in Jackson County, NC. His fifth novel, Those We Thought We Knew, releases August 1, 2023.