The One-Armed Swan Sister

I find it is much harder to sew
now that one of my arms has become
a giant white wing. It’s nonsense
to assume, of course, a spell gone wrong,
a stepmother’s curse, a swan nearly freed.
I recall being swallowed in fire.
Just think about me sewing these shirts one-handed
for each of my eleven missing brothers.
I went and watched the snow geese
pushing seeds and dirt in their beaks,
their comforting, incessant noise,
but I felt lonely even then. It’s hard
to get the energy to wash my face and hair,
with one wing out of place.
Perhaps I will become a goose girl,
listen for the trumpeting return,
the whoosh of white feathers in the night.
I dream of their faces, promising me
that I will become whole as soon
as I finish these shirts. I’m all out of balance,
not quite flight-worthy. I stay out of sight,
in the tundra, grey and white.

Photo by Caroline Blackburn.
Artist Caroline Blackburn has always been fascinated by folklore and fairy tale. “I saw my first swan maiden in Swan Lake when I was four. I was obsessed by swans, always hoping to catch one turning into a woman, and perhaps hoping that I would turn into a swan.” Learn more at

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Jeannine Hall Gailey
Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She returns to the Floating World, unexplained Fevers, and The robot Scientist’s Daughter. Visit her online at