This week’s poem reads like a kind of fairy tale or nursery rhyme of origins and transformations. Peleg Held weaves his story-poem with a sly and beautifully bracing use of rhyme and phrasing, and like the best, oldest, and darkest of its kind, this origin myth of the owl also hints at something deep, startling and vertiginous in ourselves.

Peleg Held lives with his partner in Hiram, where they are working to return an old home into a working farm.

Rite of Passage: How the Owl Got its Pointy Ears

By Peleg Held

I was there when the house cat stood
and let her whiskers fall,
hollowed her bones with a black wood wind
and tendered in her crawl.
She beaked her yowl, let her questions sing,
asking who belongs to who?
And answered herself the very same thing
as her wings came working through.
She spread the claws on her last two paws
and, taloned, perched the sill.
When she looked from me to the dark lined trees
I knew she’d had her fill
of lap and bowl and the ringing bell
that once had tamed her through.
She laid her wings on the falling dark
and, wildly homeless, flew.

I sleep with windows open now
and sing to where she’s gone.
I swim the dark between the trees
across the feralled lawn.
She is no one’s lost possession now,
I do not wish her home;
I sing to raise the downy barbs,
to empty out all bone.
Black locust breaks the hedgerow,
the floorboards are alight,
the axe rests in a deadfall fire
which will not last the night.
There’s music in the inbetween.
I can’t tell who from who.
I’ll meet dawn at the ridgepole’s end
and see if wings are true.

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “Rite of Passage: How the Owl Got its Pointy Ears,” copyright © 2019 by Peleg Held, appears by permission of the author.

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