ornithology

Isabella Cho

Winnetka, IL

North Shore Country Day School

Claudia Ann Seaman Award

Runner-Up for Poetry

Poetry

at night your arms hang over my shoulders, paled
by the moon’s blue light. only now have i realized that goodbye

 

is not something spoken but a piece of the body shed
and othered: a fingernail, ear heavy with song, mouth brimming

 

with pearls. in the dark, moving through the city, i leave fingers

on park benches, slip teeth into the pine wreaths lining alleyways.

 

i would turn avian just to find your shadow amidst the blind millions

clawing for peace. i would sprout feathers from my pores, watch

 

as epidermis expands, ruptures and leaks blood to accommodate wings.

marrow empties of nutrients, vertebrae cordons hollowed spine, lips

 

peel over teeth, harden into black keratin. flight is just the act
of cutting my own feet. i still don’t believe that i won’t see you again.

 

i can’t believe in loss until the coroner drags the body to the station,

joints stiffened, tender only in the promise of what has been emptied

 

from the pewter skeleton. truth is an axe above my head. i can smell

the executioner, hands wrapped in black fabric, sliding the whetstone

 

back and forth. the bucket expecting my head is eyeless, cold.
in these moments of danger i think of you, of our meeting again.

 

my lungs, wrought of air. your figure outlined in the dark.

from my throat, blue birds.

EDITORIAL PRAISE

Brutally enamoring in its precision and power, Ornithology is a piece that arrests one with the unattainable desires and shattered iniquities of simple people, fraught with the very humanity that makes us so gently imperfect. Conveying worlds of unfettered feeling, each letter of the poem kills softly and soothes sharply.

PRAISE FROM FAISAL MOHYUDDIN, POETRY JUDGE

Beginning with its title which situates the reader in a metaphoric bird-centric universe, ornithology elevates its subject matter—loss, grief, and longing—with its beautiful use of language. There are so many moments that took my breath away, like these: “only now have i realized that goodbye // is not something spoken but a piece of the body shed / and othered: a fingernail, ear heavy with song, mouth brimming // with pearls.” Every word is like a feather in the hands of this big-winged, big-hearted poet who, with beautifully crafted images, diction choices, and turns of phrase, leaves the reader sharing in the mournfulness the speaker carries through the piece, until its stunning ending: “from my throat, blue birds.” Even when the truth is threatening—“an axe above my head”—this poet is brave enough to face it, to use their poetic gifts to ward off the full brunt of its destructive power. This is a poem by a young poet not just full of great promise, but one whose promise is already taking shape, already in flight, soaring.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabella “Izzy” Cho is a senior at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. An identical twin and ramen lover, Izzy loves writing poetry, watching TV, playing tennis, and tutoring at her local Korean school.