From the Balcony: The Birds [Graduate ODU Poetry Prize Runner-Up]

By Lucian Mattison

Sparrows nest in the puddled iron latticework
of the balcony next door. Birdseed carpets

the floor and spills onto the street below.
The residents seem to be on endless holiday
because the birds come and go as they choose.

They dig their talons deep into their feed,
carelessly spill it over the ledge, or tamp it

down as if it were a bank of trampled snow.
They even sleep in their food, husks of split seed
coats stick in the crooks of their wings, bits

hovering slipshod atop feathers. Santiago
should be iced over this time of year.

The birds fly away when I walk outside to shake
a cigarette from my pack. They quiet and watch me
from a nearby almond branch: hulking animal,

a song in foreign smoke, condensed milk breath,
my egg-tooth glowing red between my lips.

They huddle, wait until I stomp out the cinder
and slide the door closed. The world resets.
By the window, I listen to their voices kindle

and rise back into song. Breasts puffed,
they hum as if filled with buff-tailed bees.


Lucian Mattison’s poems can be found and are forthcoming in Bodega, Boiler Journal, Digital Americana, Everyday Genius, and other journals. If you are ever in Norfolk and wish to play him in backgammon, email him at