Sandhill Crane Migration

by Jessica Poli

                  Kearney, Nebraska

No, this was not the edge of the world
though I thought it might be:
cranes lifting off the wide, silty river
in a huge mass, churning, shifting
as the light shifted, the sun making its slow way 
to the water. I didn’t expect
the tears that came—or not the tears themselves,
but the reason for them, this witnessing
of birds’ bodies huddled together warmly on the water 
and flying in close lines along the horizon, 
a sight which suddenly raised
a wild jealousy in me. 
To be close to that many bodies, 
to feel someone else’s strong wing 
brush against your soft underbelly—
I wanted that. 
I wanted to be jostled in line at the grocery store
waiting to buy milk and peanut butter,
to get lost in a sweaty crowd 
at The Bourbon listening to a band 
that only knew four songs.
No, this wasn’t the edge of the world,
but it felt like we’d been coming to it again and again
for the last year, getting closer
to the sharp edge of ourselves, that place
where we can stand no more, 
where there’s an audible snap 
and then all the grief floods in. 
The water was low on the river.
Before I left, I stared at it
moving across the silt that gathered
around the bridge’s piers.
Two cranes flew overhead and called out,
and the sound echoed in me.

Jessica Poli is the author of four chapbooks and co-editor of the collection More in Time: A Tribute to Ted Kooser (University of Nebraska Press, 2021). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, and Redivider, among other places. She is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, founder and editor of Birdfeast, and Assistant Poetry Editor of Prairie Schooner.