Mother’s chewed-at fingertips

are instruments of measurement.

Over each

of her cells I pray

a successful harvest

against the appetite of magpies.


Most of what there is to know about my parents you can learn from looking at their hands. My father’s missing finger tells a story; my mother bares anxieties on her nails. We are powerless against most attacks that take place inside our loved ones. All this disclosure and explanation ruins the poem, don’t you think? Let’s just talk about magpies. These long-tailed, pesky little birds have a bad rep for pilfering and stashing bling, and a propensity for eating pretty much anything.  Divination by magpie (made popular by the nursery rhyme) tells us that seeing one is bad (sorrow), but if you see two, that’s good (joy or mirth); more than that, I don’t know, but I think it’s bad. The mag in magpie comes from Margaret. Maggie, Marguerite, Margot. Such beautiful names. Margaret: my mother’s mother. “It ís the blight man was born for,/ It is Margaret you mourn for.”


Robert Ostrom is from Jamestown, NY. He is the author of The Youngest Butcher in Illinois (YesYes Books). His most recent chapbook, Cross the Bridge Quietly, is forthcoming from Phantom Limb Press. He lives in Queens and teaches at New York City College of Technology and Columbia University.

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