Is That a Short-Tailed Albatross Around Your Neck

Upstairs on the second floor in the room that was not quite a room covered in smoky mirrors by the last tenant who refused to leave and had to be convinced, in the room that watched the blinds open and close, that listened as people downstairs argued, his voice raised, her voice next, his voice louder, her voice hoarse, coughing, his voice harsh,

Juveniles are entirely dark brown at first, with a pink bill and pink feet.

the disembodied sounds rising up the stairs, swirling through the entrance where I played on the floor with a three inch black plastic Stegasaurus, my first primer on extinction.

Subadults have a “black-throated” stage with a white face, breast and belly.

He lived in a box with others of his kind, lined with pictures from magazines that were blue and green, a natural habitat.  It had folded tissues for sleeping, bottle caps filled with water and bluish sky made out of Hanukkah wrapping paper.

As the throat becomes white, a blackish area remains, creating a black-hooded look.

The people downstairs were my grandparents. Sometimes an ambulance arrived in the middle of the night and took my grandmother to the hospital.  They turned off the sirens and kept the lights flashing at my mother’s request.

White patches appear on the upperside of the wing fairly early.

I couldn’t play stoopball because it disturbed her. We had to be quiet.  No one mentioned my grandmother was dying.

By the late 1940’s they were close to extinction.  Their feathers were coveted for pen plumes and feather beds.

They did not know how to discuss death with children; they could barely discuss it themselves.  They did not know, or had forgotten, that children think about everything, all the time.  I wondered where she went, if her hands still smelled of garlic.

There are now 200 short-tailed albatross remaining on a tiny island south of Japan.

Fredda Jaffe

Born and raised in New York City, Fredda Jaffe lives in Seattle and works as a family therapist. Her poems have traveled through Puget Sound on Metro buses, confronted racism, praised worms, and studied salmon-habitat restoration on the Skagit River.

Copyright 2017, Fredda Jaffe.

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