Feathers and Boulders

By Kate Hawkes
Sept. 11, 2011

The diagnosis arrived like a feather
Floated down upon us all
Touched us lightly on the way past our
Stunned minds.

This is not a random metaphor – my father was a bird-man.
He loved them all – little as finches, big as geese.
Birds native to his Australian landscape,
From afar as Africa and Europe

He’d come in from the aviaries,
Feathers perched on his black wavy hair,
Eyes alert,
Singing out the adventures of that day.

After the words stopped vibrating
After we all agreed the meds
Didn’t help
The diagnosis became a boulder.

It wrapped itself around our ankles like a ball and chain,
Sat up on our shoulders until, Atlas like, we couldn’t even shrug.
It pressed on our chests like gravestones.
The diagnosis labeled us all.

The hardest part of the journey,
Most demanding,
Consistently dreadful,
(Full of dread)

Was not the food that couldn’t be swallowed,
The bathroom that promised humiliation and pain
The bed that became a prison even as it was
The only haven.

The hardest part of all was the
act of
letting go.

I felt the ghosts of fear and grief and desire
That came and perched like ravens around his bed
On the days that I sat there as he breathed
Slow and hard or fast and shallow.

One day he asked why the door was open
– it wasn’t.
One day he asked who had left the hall light on
-we didn’t have one.

I saw that his soul was getting ready to let him leave.
My heart broke for his leaving me
But I knew
He had worked so hard.

Worked so long and deep
This last 4 weeks
On things he didn’t even know
Were there to work.

The boulder slowly lifted from his heart
He started to fly, further and further away from us.
For longer and longer flights.
He’d return to visit, perched briefly, full of pain, in this world.

One time he didn’t come back.
And the boulder that rested up on those of us still here,
Pressed in harder, more dreadfully, one more time.
Then it slowly began to weather away.

Right after he was gone I tried to go to the aviaries.
But the birds called his name,
Looked at me as brightly as he did,
Feathers drifted slowly with nowhere to land.

I fled.

Today, 3 years on,
The boulder is just occasional gravel in my shoes,
A small stone that presses on my shoulder.
It is also, oddly, in the collection of heart-stones I gather still.

My father gave me one last gift.
He showed me, through his fear and his struggle
That we have to live as completely
As everything gives us opportunity to do.

It may be the boulder that catches your toe
Or bows your back.
It may be birds that call and sprinkle you with feathers.
You have to do it all.

Before the soul can leave
You will do the work you need to do.
You do it ultimately alone.
Then you can fly.


  1. pointsthruprose

    Kate, what a beautifully written poetic story about the weight and weightlessness of a loss. The “occasional gravel in my shoes” is such a pleasant reminder that we get to hang on to a piece of everyone we love. This is a story I will read often, thank you for writing it.

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