How to Flatten by Jacqueline Henry


I had never seen a bird flatten itself until
I spied a sparrow slip through a slit in the eave
of Aunt Ginger’s roof. 

It wore a black mask around its eyes, like people do
around their fear-of-COVID faces, its feathers beautiful
shades of black, gray, and green. 

I wonder what it would be like to gracefully flatten. I say gracefully
because I know what it’s like to be deflated, and this isn’t that kind of
metaphor. This is about fitting into the sacred shape

of yourself—in this place, this universe, this eave that really needs you to be
a precise angle and line someone else can lean upon. Like when me and my
Uncle Johnnie built a house from a deck of cards and just

a whisper of wind—the door to the basement creaking, Grandma calling—sent all
those faces flying. And me, with my little-girl nails bitten to the quick, scurrying to pick up
the cards pasted on the concrete floor, unable to lift them. And now,

I spy another sparrow becoming a card, and try my own becoming—exhaling out and feeling my
organs cave in, making a c-curve of my body and not the one-dimensional aspect of who I want
to be—that singularity, that truth— 

and not what I am filled with: the violence and noisy air of this world. 

It’s genius, really: in an eave, there’s a nest away from the crows and their kind of blackness,
one that requires a certain kind of shaping so you can sleep sweetly, then emerge into the bright 

blue morning, breasts puffed wide with air, awakening to your own voice singing.


Jacqueline Henry is a New York-based writer/editor and creative writing instructor. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from: Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, After the Pause, BoomerLitMag, California Quarterly, The Cape Rock, Carbon Culture Review, Clarion, The Courtship of Winds, El Portal, Euphony, Evening Street Review, Front Range Review, Mad River Review, The New York Times, The North Atlantic Review, Prism Review, The Round, Slant: A Journal of Poetry, The Southampton Review, Streetlight Magazine, The Summerset Review, The Umbrella Factory, Whistling Shade, and Writer’s Digest magazine. In 2019, she was a finalist in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship contest for her novel Sadie’s Passage, and in 2021, her short story “Cloud People” was runner-up in the Gival Press Short Story contest.