• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 07

A Thing with Wings

After John Everett Millais’s The Blind Girl


Dickinson wrote about hope,
that thing with feathers
that perches in the soul, and I
wonder if it can be that thing
with wings on it—
Mariposas, Butterflies, Papillons,
but also Pájaros, Birds, Oiseaux
a handful of languages, seeds
to scatter, milkweed to grow
on fields, in yards, in groves,
bouquets of langues, tongues
lips’ sighless breaths, our
sightless eyes cast within
and out, beyond, and over
Dorothy’s rainbows.


Millais’s Madonna, wanderer
in her tattered clothes, turns
a weary back to the hunger
of sun-burnt wheat—
her sienna robe wide
as the straw-colored fields
the orphaned child has guided
her across. Her ample woolen


A Thing with Wings

folds arch over russet tresses,
shelter the child with cornsilk hair
who twists and turns
in her embrace. The child
has fallen in love with rainbows,
far horizons, and the notes
of a concertina. Her worn blue
skirts wear painted
butterfly-winged patches
only I can see.


Fatigue settles on the sightless girl,
silences concertina asleep on her lap.
She and I listen—goats rustle dried grass,
milky cows ruminate on spring sprouts,
call deep-throated to one another, crows
and bluebirds cull seeds as they forage
and jitter airy melodies, wings shear
rain-cleared sky. She hears them. They
comfort her. A bold butterfly
no more than a sprig from a wise oak
no more than the light on the horizon,
falls in love with ocher hues, and
lights on the woman’s cape, a glint
from distant rainbows.