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The Ecology of Feathers

by Leslie Cairns


Geese litter the lawn of the woman I’m dogsitting. Leashes and slobber and borrowed bones.

They’re three streets down, a mile from where I saw them last fall.


The red veined leaves cascading as I sprinted last autumn, momentarily calm. No one could get me. I was losing weight. I was feeling

everything, but for once, it was okay.

Then a goose was pecking in front of me, curious about the middle lines, and a car sped up at the last second, not minding that it was a protected species. The feathers were so close I could almost feel their tinseled, glittering weight.

The way we made eye contact.Just two animals, breathing. Bleating.

Geese tend to each other until they pass. They flock around, crowded, and bellow towards the frosty air.


This year, there’s no geese in the pond across from where the goose died. This year I run slower than last. As if death left a handprint on my chest. Constricting.


It makes me wonder if the geese learned to stay away from the slightly manicured lake, the roads curving from my house. If they can still feel the loss, all these months later. If when they flew down in their bottlenecked formations from buoyed skies, if they could see the loss from their wingspan. If they could hold it in their beaks, the air hugging their face as they flew.


I can still feel the way your lips would snarl upwards when you wanted to hit me when I was already contemplating razors without the shaving cream. The way our eyes and bodies look alike, and the way I’d frown when you’d loop into the driveway. I wanted family as a meal: wanted to hold and cradle it down to the dregs—its last moments. Watch the life leave the word until it holds no meaning. I’d say it on my run in a whisper until the horses watching me from fences with hay would whinny.


Now, no geese safeguarding my home. Nor the streets near my house. If you could see me then, road trips away, cradling a goose. Calling the skies for a funeral, but raindrops never came. A goose would take over three days to get to you.

If you named me the way I wanted to be named, I’d sprout a beak that speaks in languages meant for gliding down the stars at night, propelling with the dawn. Spinning with amber, white, and black stripes that pattern me in the way we love, the way we ache to be held together by pinpricks and minnows, not by gathering and speeding too fast—

If you saw I grew when I left home, I’d sprout a feather near my ribs. Next, I’d find myself full of down, that shield the rest from suffering—


I’d circled back with my dogs the next day and saw that the goose was completely gone.I’d wondered if all wounds heal, if only there was a flock

to protect you.



Leslie Cairns (She/her): Leslie Cairns holds an MA degree in English Rhetoric. She lives in Denver, Colorado. She has upcoming flash, short stories, and poetry in various magazines, including Cerasus Magazine, Coffeezine Mag, Swim Press, Bright Flash Literary Review, Londemere Lit, and others. Twitter: starbucksgirly

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