Gulls

Swooping past the Big Lots sign
toward the Tractor Supply Store, a lone seagull flaps
what used to be white wings, dirtied now

by sludge-water and oil leaked from some good ole
boy’s monster truck, and lands in the parking lot

among its peers. How these dozen or so gulls
got here, perhaps none of them remembers.
But they were born by the sea and somehow swept

miles inland to this patch of pavement outside
the place where farmers get everything they need,
save rain, and it is always crowded. The air is filthy

from exhaust fumes and the tobacco-soaked sighs
of middle-aged men with thick bellies and vein-
roped arms, hoisting yet another sack

of seed across their meaty shoulders—the stench
of dumpsters and cigarette butts and dried sweat
more pungent as the day wears on—waves of heat

drifting over the pavement like steam from boiling
cauldrons, only hotter. On feet so fried they can’t feel
them, the gulls feed on pieces of hotdog spewed

from the mouths of toddlers, covered with mustard
and phlegm, bits of stale bread hanging on
like pinchers. Whatever these birds knew of sea

and sand has been lost, yet they wheel and cry out
as if the sound still echoes over water, and any

minute a fish will leap from the blistering, trash-
strewn blacktop and cars will rise and fall
like shrimp boats riding the tar-tinted waves.

Terri Kirby Erickson is the author of four collections of award-winning poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, storySouth, Asheville Poetry Review, Cutthroat, The Writer’s Almanac, American Life in Poetry, North Carolina Literary Review, Verse Daily, and many others. Awards include the Joy Harjo Poetry Award and a Nautilus Book Award. For more information, visit https://terrikirbyerickson.com.

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