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Arielle Hebert

Arielle Hebert is a queer poet based in Durham, North Carolina. Her work appears in Great River Review, Nimrod Journal, and Willow Springs among others. She won the 2020 Claire Keyes Poetry Prize. Arielle believes in ghosts and magic.

Black Nightgowns

What do vultures do between deaths?
Between meals and circling hours?
When they can be just another bird—
not the harbinger of bitter ends and bad luck,
the shy hiss of shadow looming beyond the veil.

How thin the air is between us. Dear stranger,
don’t be frightened. These birds are not
promises, not a curse to cower in.
Carrion bird, coroner bird,
surviving on remains, yes. But also

sunbathing, wings spread like a deep breath,
featherbald faces to the bright star
early on a chill April morning.
Delicate feet ballet dancing in the field
to romance a life-long lover.

A volt when gathered shoulder to shoulder
on a low limb to wait out the rain.
When floating on air streams, a kettle,
families forming a stormcloud
before migration, a new brood of

cousins showing off, diving through space.
No wake today, but music.
A fantasia of black
nightgowns flapping like children
escaped from their beds.

My mother rarely sings,

says she doesn’t like the sound,
and I realize I can recall “Happy Birthday,”
occasional Fleetwood Mac,
endangered lullabies of
“Mary Had a Little Lamb”
only if I asked her for it.

At the Kingdom Hall,
she silently moved her lips
along with the hymns,
let the other Witnesses’
echoes pool around her
in the windowless room.

When she hits her elbow or stubs her toe,
she calls that pain singing.
Heat at the injection site,
that’s singing. Pinkish stain
on the cotton ball as she cleans
my scraped knees with rubbing alcohol,
It stings, I tell her, and she says,
It’s just singing for a moment,
it will be quiet soon.

She held my hand for my first tattoo,
touched the back of her own neck
where an inked ladybug rests,
remembers it singing.

A broken arm can sing.
A horsekick to the chest can sing.
A carpetburn, knifeslip, papercut can sing.
Sunlight in your tired eyes can sing.

The heart following a body
lowered into the ground can sing.
My mother’s son leaving for the army,
her daughter coming out,
all of it, everywhere, singing
the aspiritual melody of loss, longing.

My mother knows the words to the song,
and though you might not be able to hear it,
she is always singing.
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