Like a debutante in a red gown, I couldn’t ignore her,
how she’d sit on a low branch, peck her hello each day
on my window, then swoop over a neighboring cornfield,
a streak of crimson against an azure Missouri sky.

Packing in late autumn, I knew I‘d miss her—how her flamboyance
upstaged sparrow and squirrel; how she’d drop into my day
at just the right moment, like a good friend knocking
on the back door when you’re most in need of company.

I was in my new home just a few weeks, when I heard a noise
like fidgety fingernails on a tabletop, faint at first, then gathering
greater urgency. I looked up to see a flutter of red
at my kitchen window.

Had my old friend found me hundreds of miles away?
I wanted to believe she had. I wanted to climb on her back,
luminous as a flame, and soar over the fields of the Fox Valley,
away from this new beginning, away from this place
where I felt so alone.

Each day for years, she’d visit me, until I had to move again,
this time back to my hometown in Jersey. It wasn’t long before
my dad spoke of a cardinal: “Can’t remember seeing one
in the yard before this,” he said. I watched

my friend flit from pine tree to Sycamore; her brilliance
bold as a peacock’s feathers, bold as a sunrise
awakening day.

Susan Balik

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