We first noticed the cormorant late afternoon,
the golden hour just before dusk,
black feathers and kinked neck,
a thin hooked bill, perched
on a piling facing the house as though
watching the oxygen tanks unloaded
from the back of a truck, the wheelchair
we carried up the front stairs.
The next day there were more,
diving deep beneath the docks, feeding
for hours before coming to rest
one after another on pilings
until every one was taken.
A silent chorus, in their black robes,
and as the time we’d been given
shortened to a few days they offered comfort,
a belief that as long as they stayed
she wouldn’t die, even as she refused
pudding, sweet tea, turned her face to the wall
as we moistened her lips with a wet cloth.
The last day was quiet, the water still
until her final breath when wind
suddenly kicked up. I watched
as they rose in unison, heading south
as though ushering her away.
I wished them safe harbor.
I wish them safe return.
Poet, teacher, and editor, Cheryl Baldi is the author of The Shapelessness of Water and a former Pennsylvania Poet Laureate. A finalist for the Robert Fraser Award for Poetry and the Francis Locke Memorial Award, she is widely published, most recently in ONE ART: a journal for poetry. She volunteers for the Bucks County Poet Laureate Program and the Arts and Cultural Council and lives in Doylestown, PA and along the coast in New Jersey.