What's Left

(reed warbler mother to the cuckoo chick)

The common cuckoo practices brood parasitism: she lays her egg in the nest of a different species than her own. Often, she will time the laying so her egg will hatch first and her chick, instinctively, will push the host mother’s eggs from the nest.


The hollows of what would have been

my children pock the mud in mucky swallows—

not even the clamor of shattered shell

or broken bones, just the gulping absences

sunk among reeds and sweet-grass.


You are what’s left to me.

You overflow the nest with your bawdy

striped breast and brash-budding hawk beauty.

I bring you leopard moths and rove beetles. I sing

you my drab brown song.


You gape your mouth

bigger than my head

and demand more.


I didn’t know it would be so hard

to love you. I strive for connection while you sleep,

try to imagine you grown, wonder if I have

the same miscreant black feathers

hidden beneath my chest.


What kind of mother am I, doling out meals

with resentment lodged in my throat?

What miserly hand carved out my stature,

my flea-sized heart?


When I search for anything resembling

affection, all I see is my own tiny eye

engulfed like a stone

in the wide pool of yours. 


Elizabeth Vignali is an optician and writer in Bellingham, Washington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including Willow Springs, Crab Creek Review, Natural Bridge, Tinderbox, and Stirring. Her chapbook, Object Permanence, is available from Finishing Line Press. Elizabeth coproduces the Kitchen Sessions: Bellingham poetry series, attends incessant PTA meetings, hikes with her daughters, and pretends to be one of those people who knows what they’re doing, with varying degrees of success.