“Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror,”
by Kelli Russell Agodon


Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror 

The night sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world, but we can
change our hardware. America breaks my heart
some days, and some days it breaks itself into two.
I watched a woman have a breakdown in the mall
today and when the security guard tried to help
her, what I could see was all of us
peeking from her purse as she threw it
across the floor into Forever 21. And yes,
the walls felt like another way to hold us
in and when she finally stopped crying,
I heard her say to fluorescent lighting, Some days
the sky is too bright. And like that we were her
flock in our black coats and white sweaters,
some of us reaching our wings to her
and some of us flying away.


First published in American Academy of Poets’ Poem-a-Day.

Listen to the poet reading her poem here.


Kelli Russell Agodon’s book, Hourglass Museum, a finalist for the Washington State Book Awards and shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize, is available for order here. Her second book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was the winner of Foreword Book of the Year Prize for poetry and also a finalist for the Washington State Book Awards. With Martha Silano, she coauthored The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice. A new book is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2021. Agodon’s work has been featured on NPR, ABC News, and in magazines and journals such as The Atlantic, Harvard Review, APR, The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer. An avid paddleboarder and hiker, Agodon lives in a sleepy seaside town in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, visit www.agodon.com / www.twosylviaspress.com.

You can learn more about Agodon and her work at these links:



Poet’s Note

Many of my poems incorporate day-to-day moments—going to the mall, changing all the knobs on my kitchen cabinets because they keep snagging my sweaters, reading articles about wildlife. I try to incorporate the small tasks (changing knobs) within the larger ones (feeling brokenhearted about my country). This one came out of reading an article about self-recognition in magpies; I began also to think of a conversation I had with my doctor about the increase in requests for anti-anxiety medication these days. I began to wonder—how do we respond to our fellow humans when they break down in front of us? Do we recognize ourselves in them? Or do we judge them for not being able to keep it together? Ultimately, I think it comes down to compassion—we have the choice to help or to leave, though my hope is that we all try to take care of each other.


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  • Martha Hansen January 23, 2020 at 8:55 am

    We are all connected, in pain and in joy.