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  4. Once by Tara Bray

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I climbed the roll of hay to watch the heron
in the pond. He waded a few steps out,
then back, thrusting his beak under water,
pulling it up empty, but only once.
Later I walked the roads for miles, certain
he’d be there when I returned. How is it for him,
day after day, his brittle legs rising
from warm green scum, his graceful neck curled,
damp in the bright heat? It’s a dull world.
Every day, the same roads, the sky,
the dust, the barn caving into itself,
the tin roof twisted and scattered in the yard.
Again, the bank covered with oxeye daisy
that turns to spiderwort, to chicory,
and at last to goldenrod. Each year, the birds—
thick in the air and darting in wild numbers—
grow quiet, the grasses thin, the light leaves
earlier each day. The heron stood
stone-still on my spot when I returned.
And then, his wings burst open, lifting the steel-
blue rhythm of his body into flight.
I touched the warm hay. Hoping for a trace
of his wild smell, I cupped my hands over
my face: nothing but the heat of fields
and skin. It wasn’t long before the world
began to breathe the beat of ordinary hours,
stretching out again beneath the sky.

Poem copyright ©2006 by Tara Bray, and reprinted from her most recent book of poems, Mistaken for Song, Persea Books, Inc., 2009, by permission of the publisher.
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  • Tara Bray is the author of Mistaken for Song (2009), her first collection of poetry and winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize. She earned an MFA from the University of Arkansas, where she held the Walton Fellowship in Creative Writing. Bray has published work in various publications, including Verse Daily, Shenandoah, Crab Orchard Review, and the Southern Review.  

    In his review of Mistaken for Song for Bookslut, Paul Franz noted Bray’s interest in nature, family history, and subjectivity; attentive to the sounds of language, she is able to bring “out the sensory texture of words through alliteration and the jumble of plosive consonants.”

    The recipient of multiple awards and honors, including a State of Nevada Individual Artist Fellowship and a Sierra Arts Foundation Literary Artist Grant, Bray has taught at the University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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