At first I thought the pileated woodpecker
that lifted up from the yard as we came home
from a walk in the woods, flapping
away on long black wings that curved
up at the tips and flashed white
underneath, might be a visitation

from my father, who’d died that week
ten years before. The bird came back
after we went indoors, and started hacking
at the rotten stump of a maple
to get at the carpenter ants inside,
its long-beaked, red-crested head

chopping like a pickaxe into the soft
heart of the stump, and flicking chunks
aside with mechanical efficiency,
sending them arcing into the yard.
It was just doing what it needed to do
to survive, yet we watched through the window

amazed by its relentlessness,
like someone making the same
obvious point over and over,
until we gave in to the amusement
I know my father would have felt
at the way, between bursts of pecking,

its head popped up from the hollowed-out stump
like a jack-in-the-box, beak raised
at an angle that looked either jaunty
or quizzical, as though asking something
of us, but not waiting for an answer,
which, in any case, we wouldn’t have had.


Jeffrey Harrison is the author of six books of poetry, including Between Lakes. His poems have recently been published or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Image, Plume, and elsewhere. His essay on Marcel Duchamp, “The Story of a Box,” appeared last spring in The Common’s Issue 25.

[Purchase Issue 27 here.]


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