The bird soft with life in the strawberry patch, barely feathered, size of my cupped hands, the hymn in it dying.

Margaret Finley D’Imperio, cake burner, stoop sitter, Easter basket builder, grandmother, when I was nine. The bird died, then she did, and all my magnitude was sky, the way I watched it for wingworks.

The false pearl in the hot pierce of my left ear when I said bastard, same word as vulture, not the scientific name but the best I could summon to explain the wheeling near of the monster birds, my left cheek cracked with the force of my mother’s hand in that instant, my false pearl an arrow, quick, my first curse word, but I didn’t know it.

The pink sweet of the roast beef and the cakes in their eight-by-eight tins. The wooden spoon slicked with batter. Sand cookies. Brownie crumble. Milkshakes. Because someone said of me, so that I would hear, those thighs, making food, in that emptying sudden, war, a crisis, a summons.

My heart: Once to the man in the splattered painter’s pants, once when the love had been emptied, once when love returned—full mooned and lofted.

My dignity: Rustling a fight with a man in the street. Hurling devil at the doctor in labor’s infinity hour. Imagining her happy to see me. Imagining I hadn’t heard what had been said about me. Wrong dress. Wrong hair. Wrong words. Wrong faith. Wrong moan. Wrong confession. Wrong once.

The sphere of a pearl at the end of a chain (my grandmother’s pearl, my grandmother’s chain), on a gray day, in a raw park, where my son and I were sifting the world for words, waiting until he found one, and he found one, but the chain broke, and the pearl fell, a hymn in me dying.

— and —

On a bright day, on the rise of a street, where I went walking. Deer crimping the grass beyond me. The crushed sand in the asphalt spangling. My mind sifting words.

I saw it and thought it the cheap lost thing of a child, the false gold links of a bargain bracelet, so I kept walking. Up the rise. Sifting.

I turned back. Stooped. The deer lifted their wet eyes to watch as I lifted the chain with its pink and thrilled stones. I couldn’t find the words, then I found them: tourmaline and diamonds. A bracelet of true jewels that had burst from the slim wrist of another who had gone before me on the rise of the street, by the crimped grass and the wet eyes of the deer. Another now losing, now amassing losses.

And all my magnitude was sky.

Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of three-dozen books, co-founder of Juncture Workshops, and a book artist. Her new books are Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays and We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class. More at and