A Steller’s Jay caught his tail
in the fishing line we’d draped
over our thistle feeder
to foil the sparrows.

I grabbed kitchen shears
and tiptoed beneath the birches
where his mate scrawed
warnings of my approach.

What is a pendulum,
if not the desperate measure
of each remaining
moment we share?

The jay beat his wings,
thrashing against trunks and
clapboard till his tail-feathers tore,
leaving this unwanted talisman,

bloodied & wry. And isn’t that
what freedom often requires:
the sacrifice of something essential
for a wingbeat’s promise

of light, horizon, and sky.

Jill McCabe Johnson is the author of the poetry collections Revolutions We’d Hoped We’d Outgrown, shortlisted for Jane’s Stories Press Foundation’s Clara Johnson Award in Women’s Literature, and Diary of the One Swelling Sea, winner of a Nautilus Silver Award in Poetry, plus the chapbooks Pendulum and Borderlines. Recent works have appeared in SlateFourth GenreWaxwingThe Brooklyn ReviewGulf StreamBrevity, and Diode. Jill is editor-in-chief of Wandering Aengus Press.

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“Breakaway” was originally published in Page & Spine.

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