Lyall Harris – Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage is part of poet and visual artist Lyall Harris’ collection One-wingèd, an in-progress manuscript about hidden abuse and what it takes to break free. 

Collateral Damage

you left a nest
in the shed
swallows built
and a memo instructing us
take care of it
visit the chicks
(only when they’re fatherless
or motherless
or risk a beaked wrath)
and piles and piles of unwanted
books and papers on the dining table
and keys and electronics
and notes dictating their fate
when you left us
you left everything
for me to take care of
organize your things
pack them in neat boxes and pay
for crates and carriage
down to the hoarded
toothbrushes and pairs of underwear
still wrapped from San Casciano market
where your mother buys them
yes I’ll aid in your escape and then some
I’ll empty wardrobes and drawers
of wool and cotton stripe and print
of soled leather from Italy
of every material that knew
your gait and waist
your torso
the span of your arms
the circumference of your neck
in fact I tear through the house
possessed of my freedom
emptying cabinets and cubbies
of countless signs
of how you managed suffering
I drag the recycling bin up
first to the kitchen door
then the garden shed
hundreds of containers (plastic or glass
labels soaked and scraped
glue removed with solutions—
I understand now there was some relief in readying
for the future)
tumble through the green bin’s open jaw
and somehow in my giddy frenzy
to reclaim my life I hear the needs
of those baby birds
but I’m forgetting about prey
as I snatch the airy nest from the shelf
and place it absentmindedly on the grass
proud of my swift undoing
when I’ve finished for the day
I roll the bin out for tomorrow’s removal
and something marble-sized catches
my eye near the fence
at the edge of the quieted property
I stoop in recognition
bald head springy beak—
the collateral damage

Lyall Harris

Writer-visual artist Lyall Harris’ poetry has appeared in The Minnesota Review, The New GuardThe Raw Art Review, and elsewhere, and her creative nonfiction has been featured in The Montréal Review. Her poetry has been a finalist in numerous contests and was recently shortlisted for the 2020 Anne Sexton Poetry Prize (Eyewear Publishing) and received First Runner-up for the 2020 Doug Draime Prize for Poetry (RAR). Harris’ paintings have been widely exhibited and recognized with awards, including The George Hitchcock Prize from the National Academy Museum, and her book art is held in over fifty Special Collection libraries, such as those at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Yale and Stanford. She holds an MFA in Book Art and Creative Writing.

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