Shaindel Beers is the author of two full-length poetry collections, A Brief History of Time (2009) and The Children’s War and Other Poems (2013), both from Salt Publishing. She teaches at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, and is the poetry editor of Contrary Magazine. Learn more at her website .
9. (From Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pelican)
I want to give Liam a love
of language, of nature. He is just beginning
to differentiate birds. So far, there is generic
boo-id. And owww-ell. Anything the size
of a duck is a dutch. A peacock is an up-cock.
We try not to laugh, don’t want to make
him self-conscious even though shirt
and shorts and socks all sound obscene.
When we walk along the levee
the pelicans are dutch. I try to correct
him until I realize their shape classification
is listed as “ducklike”; sometimes, already,
he is more observant than I am. Like the day
we were walking and I heard him say,
Sssssss, and thought he was playing,
then, thought he had found a toy snake,
until I reached down to touch it,
saw the warm flick of the tongue.
Little striped whipsnake, trying
to make his way to the river.
I attempted to lift him with a stick
while Liam hissed excitedly, Sssss!
Ssssss! and then, along came a boy
on a skateboard, who stopped,
lifted him over the side of the levee
bare-handed, dropped him into
the rocks to slither to water.
I want my son to be like that brave boy
so gentle and unafraid all at once.