Autumn Sky Poetry . . . Number 13 . . .

Kelley White studied at Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School and worked as a pediatrician in inner-city Philadelphia for more than twenty-five years. Mother of three, she is an active Quaker and has recently returned to her small New Hampshire village and begun work at a rural health center in the North Country. Her poems have been widely published over the past decade in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Rattle, and the Journal of the American Medical Association as well as in several chapbooks and full-length collections. She is the recipient of a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant in poetry.


     by Kelley White

Two weeks dying (longer, if I had truly listened, heard

your song diminish to gone when I returned

one day to home). And then you could not fly

even as high as your one good wing had carried you,

to your water, to your seed. I saw you tip up your beak

to swallow water, to wet your long silent throat.

In the last days you huddled completely into an oval,

that shape we know as dove, smooth curve so like

Aladdin’s lamp. I brought you tempting foods,

a peanut, buttered popcorn, suet, but you stumbled, you lay

on your back like the cartoon birds with X-ed out eyes,

and though I righted you, two times, three times, perhaps

it was a dozen, I who had not touched you in seven years,

in the last night you breathed like a man in a quiet sleep,

like someone I loved, breath steady beside me,

then the breath was a flicker, then the light went out

in your golden eyes. I took you in my hands, whole,

and surprisingly heavy, your hollow boned husk,

wrapped you in soft cloth, settled you into a mat

of dry grass.

In those last hours, I saw you pull into yourself, your light

gone to the heat of embers, the dear life crumbling

into that intense heat—and I saw how life goes on, how it chooses

to burn until nothing is wasted, almost nothing. What is

your soul but the blessing of stillness, silence? World,

dear living world, life that wishes to live—what flew

at last? You were teaching me to live. Let even my ash be of use.

© 2009 Kelley White