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Through my in-​laws’ breakfast window
in the country, the nuthatches roll

and bounce and shake spiny winter
brambles. Their breasts puffed round

as if to fit in the hand of a child.
I scrape rings of hardened milk

from my coffee mug while I confuse
the birds for chickadees

and search for spring.


The week before, in Pittsburgh, I saw
a young man standing on the lawn

at Mellon Park, his hands nested above the waist.
I imagined his suffering and his solace,

his prayer, before he raised his hand,
flashing a cell phone

in the late morning sun.

Now, at the hospital, my father-​in-​law sleeps
with his mouth half open. A girl folds to her knees

in the busy hallway outside our room. As she mews
and weeps under the buzzing fluorescents

I remember my father-​in-​law
on the tennis court, his racquet

slicing the downy ball the same
color as the paper-​plastic hospital

gown I’m forced to wear. The girl’s face
is inflated and her braids are tight. The sound

is a glass bell of sadness,
and I wish I had a nuthatch

to wrap in her two hands.

Pittsburgh Quarterly is now accepting submissions for its online poetry feature. PQ Poem is seeking poetry from local, national and international poets that highlight a strong voice and good use of imagery, among other criteria. To have your work featured, send up to three previously unpublished poems in Word or PDF format as well as a brief bio to

Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but if work is accepted elsewhere, please alert us.

Milena Nigam

Milena Nigam is a Pittsburgh-​based writer and a 2016 fellow at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. She was a finalist in Cutthroat Journal’s Rick DeMarinis 2014 short story contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slice, The Fourth River, Lunch Ticket, Hippocampus Magazine, and elsewhere. She is currently an editor at Halfway Down the Stairs and has recently completed a collection of short stories.

Other stories in this category: « Just Because Blue Bra »
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