Poetry Sunday: “Our Twenty-first Summer, Chimney Swifts,” by Christine Rhein


Our Twenty-First Summer, Chimney Swifts



You didn’t believe me
when I said I heard birds
through the fireplace doors.

Twittering, twittering, twittering.

The next time you mowed
you came in smiling—
Birds flew from the chimney.
They dove over and over
right in front of the tractor.

Sustenance snapped up
from tiny flutters.



And this is why I love you—
because you looked the birds up,
told me they’re endangered.

I need to wait for fall before I can
put back the chimney cap.

Not enough hollow trees around.
Maybe next year I should build
a wooden nesting tower.



I dreamt two swifts were flying
in our bedroom as we slept.

They were weaving a pattern
I could and couldn’t figure out.

The clock was gone.
I felt your breath on my shoulder.

There was no need
to wake.



Funny, about swifts.

Not built to perch, they can’t land
in the grass or on a branch.

They live mostly in the air,
even mating on the wing.

A wingspan more than
twice as long as their bodies—
silhouette of tiny arrow
and wide-reaching bow.

Erratic flight—shallow beats,
sudden stalls, startling speed.



So here we are again—or still—
in our living room,
the sound of chirping,
incessant twilight hunger.

Your hand in mine,
we talk of our sons
growing older.

Impulse, to break off twigs
in passing, to keep on
gluing the nest together.

A half-saucer nest is enough.

Night allows some rest,
clawed feet clamped side by side,
firebricks with mortared joints—
a cliff wall to cling to.


First published in the Gettysburg Review. “Our Twenty-First Summer, Chimney Swifts,” from Wild Flight. © 2008 by Christine Rhein. Used by permission of Texas Tech University Press and available here.


Christine Rhein’s collection,Wild Flight, is a winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry (Texas Tech University Press). Her poems have appeared in journals including The Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Southern Review, and have been selected for Poetry Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, Best New Poets, and other anthologies. A former automotive engineer, Rhein lives in Brighton, Michigan. She has a new poetry manuscript in circulation. www.ChristineRhein.com


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  • Susan Gunter February 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    This is a lovely poem–I am reading it on a sunny day as my husband trims our grape vines. I love this kind of picture of a quiet domesticity that broadens to include all of life.