“RSVP” Is the Collective Noun for Snowy Egrets

How easy it is to ignore a broken-necked
bird as I steer your wheelchair by the lake’s edge.

Above us, a snowy egret’s carcass contracts
with decay; it drapes in the crook of a cypress

bough, and the stink drives you to pinch your nose.
A valence of Spanish moss sifts in gusts, a sort

of chorus that caresses the bird’s deflated body,
a kind of aeronautical feat. Other than this passive

flight, the corpse’s elegant plumage is folderol.
What about the rest of the RSVP in the grove?

They disregard that limp form perched among
them. The congregation’s not discerning either,

just nesting high, warming their blanched
wings in well-lit comfort. I don’t know why

I’m shocked at how they can preen, can keep on
living, with no care that a corpse decomposes close

by. They indolently trill, their beaks chewing
at their quills of down; their folding necks

telescope to groom glamorous plump backs,
long red streamer legs. Oh, Mom, you’re so quiet

here, absorbing the luster light, your head tilted
back. Your bones are eggshells; your lungs won’t

abduct air. In six months, you’ll be gone.
I’m cold, you complain. A ski boat passes,

and you flash a wave. Hello! Your eyes are still
bright, the blue color of deep water on maps.

Together, we trace the vessel’s ripples. The dock sighs,
and we eavesdrop on the whirring birds high in the trees.

Cate McGowan is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Norton’s Flash Fiction InternationalGlimmer TrainCrab Orchard Review, Tahoma Literary ReviewCrab Fat Magazine, Ellipsis ZineBarrelhouse, ShenandoahAtticus ReviewVestal Review, Unbroken, and elsewhere. A native Georgian, McGowan is an Assistant Fiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies. She won the 2014 Moon City Short Fiction Award for her debut short story collection, True Places Never Are, published in 2015, and her debut novel, These Lowly Objects, will appear in early 2020 from Gold Wake Press.