by Brennan Bestwick
published in Thrush, September 2016
A round of robins carries the drowned boys
up into the cedars. They drape their arms
over the branches and await morning.
At dawn, the birds open the boys’ swollen
jaws. They lift their wet tongues and clean
bootlaces and silt from the boys’ mouths.
Fledglings squeeze down their throats
and descend into the ballooned lungs.
They reappear with knots of fishing line
and bottle caps pinched in their small beaks.
Single file, the robins follow each other out
of the boys, parting their pale blue lips.
The lake spills past the boys’ chins and chests,
in their sneakers, into the roots of the trees.
The cedars rise. They lift the boys to the sun.
The boys blink. Each breathes again. They live.
Those of us who swam to boats that never sank
remember the weeks the helicopters circled.
The boys’ families cried on television. We stayed
inside our homes. It became too easy to picture
our empty beds in the houses we grew up in.
We thought of our own parents’ weeping on camera.
We prayed for those boys, to whatever we believed
God to be. We found birds, plump red breasted robins.
They followed us to school, slept on windowsills
outside the rooms we lived between. We dreamed
of those boys breathing again, even after the divers
wouldn’t scan the banks anymore and swimmers
stopped fearing every fin that grazed their feet.
The sky is a promise opposite drowning.
The birds bring the boys down from the trees,
three robins to a collar. The boys practice walking.
A pulse ripples through their wrists once more.
We watch the birds taxi each boy from the boughs
back to their feet. Those of us who have never died
don’t dip our toes in the water anymore. We can’t
leave the yard. We run from the sound of the tide
rolling in. The robins encircle us if we get too near water.
They push us towards the trees. Our safety belongs
to the woods, the trunk’s long neck, wilderness.
When we open our hands to the birds they flutter
just beyond our reach. All the drowned boys laugh.