Michelle McMillan-Holifield

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“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” –Acts 4:31

The blade of my fight is dull, the knife coughing
at the thing but never cutting it, and I’m just a calamity
waiting to happen, my cowardice so bloated
it’s like some poisonous clam spit me out on its beach
and now I’m baking on the sand, the gritty crystals
pretending to be medicinal, pretending to be motherly
but they’re just throttle-kissing me, scarfing my throat
with a death grip so violent I end up silent, impotent,
dried up, powerless, a splashless wave, scarfless as a destitute
woman whose sisters have all had enough of her weakness,
her decisionless inertia, her dry-heaving anxiety
and I have become that thing I despise, the nerveless socket, a pocket
full of emptiness, a woman unable to speak her convictions
who feather-skirts around the problems, never addressing
the thing that needs to change, who puts up that thing
for safekeeping, for addressing later, who coddles, who is mild
when the situation calls for backbone and interrogation, investigation,
digging into the meat of the issue and I’m always just warming up
when the occasion calls for passionate statements, for my beliefs
to be laid out like unmistakable marks in the sand, and I blame it on
everything from men to my upbringing when really I’m my first problem,
my ground zero, the box of unsharpened pencils, the barn
with all the tools hung up for show, tools that have never
been taken off their nails.

Camerawoman: Siberia

Mandarin ducklings vault from the tree’s opening, from the slender pocket
they’ve been itching to edge out of. The mother is gravity-savvy, a skilled Olympian. The
babes—little anxious darlings with nubby wings—clunk, like apples from an overturned
basket, onto a trampoline of leaves. We stay in the hides
(two camerawomen squirming for space) where not even our
whispers can disturb the ducks. This mother courting her children through the forest to
water is such a prophetic moment I’m jealous I can’t film it alone. The camera only tells
the animals’ stories, how they flip and mingle amongst each other.
Meanwhile, we humans are out of sync
off camera. You never see the agitation we feel toward the person crammed in the hide
with us, how the hides are so small our elbows bone against each other
when we move, how she looks at me as if she wants to
shoot me, how, at nighttime, she loads her invisible ammo into her invisible gun and
fires off invisible shots while I pretend not to notice. My breathing bothers her. As does
the “metallic” noise of my top eyelashes pinging
against my bottom ones. And the smell of my lip balm permeating
her nerves, her veins. If we were sisters this would be laughable. Our mother would
coax us out of our hide; we would emerge floundering, learning together
how to navigate the world. If we tripped
each other up, it would be because we were clumsy, our feet too big for our small
bodies, not because we wanted to see each other fall.


I want to sprout gills. Want to store myself up for the winter in the cheeks of the sea
until this passes over us. If fear is a hammer, I am the house built and blown down and
built and blown down. Dread has made me its home. But I am still in control of my own
patch of grass. It’s all I have right now. In wanderlust, I find a hummingbird nest, in a
pasture of slanted branch, on the continent of tree, the planet of my backyard. Real
worlds thriving although the air is laden with COVID.

In the nest, an egg. I fall in love with it. Tiny as a tooth, a little white bean in the soft
mossy felt of spun web. One egg. In the last room it will ever call home. When the birdie
hatches and finally fans from this nest will it feel loneliness, will its heart flicking in its
petite chest churn with sadness or will it radio joy as it falls in love with everything great
and big and new? May its small chipping and its wing-hum make music over the ferns,
into the clover; may its music help us overcome fear, help us remember the praise we
once gave.

Michelle McMillan-Holifield is a recent Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee. Her work has been included in or is forthcoming in Boxcar Poetry ReviewNelle, Sky Island Journal, Sleet Magazine, Stirring, The Collagist, Whale Road Review and Windhover, among others. She hopes you one day find her poetry tacked to a tree somewhere in the Alaskan Wild. 

Photo credit: “hand:touch” by Karoly Czifra, via Flickr.com.

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