Alternate Interpretations

by Leah Browning


image by  Jordan Andrews

"Bare branches in winter are a form of writing." Billy Collins


Winter, twilight. Our boots press

through freshly fallen snow, soft powder,


blue-white as we cut through the woods

on our way home. I carried him, once,


all the way there and back, but he is

older now, and each turn of the path


reveals an unmarked page. Above,

the graceful arch of a tree branch,


and as we enter the clearing, the outlines

of birds, scattering against a blue-black sky:


they are letters, hieroglyphs,

previously unknown dialects.


Faint trail of smoke from a distant chimney,

and the moon, rising as if shrouded in gauze.


We decipher what we can. There was a time

when I looked up and could see all the answers. 


Now, as we pause in the fading light,

it seems that this language shares little


with my own. I am lost. The line of each bird

could be folded into a thousand possible phrases. 


Perhaps I will understand more

tomorrow, or the tomorrow after that.


Tonight, though, you reach for my gloved hand,

and we continue on toward the hope


of warm stew and a cup of tea,

toward the lamp in the front window,


now a remote star,

awaiting further translation. 


Leah Browning

Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens and four chapbooks.  Her fiction and poetry have appeared in ColdnoonClementine UnboundChagrin River ReviewFiction SoutheastWaypoints,Bellows American ReviewFirst Class Literary MagazineGlassworks MagazineAmygdala, and Mud Season Review.  Browning’s work has also been published on a broadside from Broadsided Press; on postcards and bookmarks from the program Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf; in The Wardrobe; with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse; and in several anthologies including The Doll Collection from Terrapin Books, Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence from White Pine Press, and Myth+Magic, a limited edition anthology from Sugared Water and Porkbelly Press. Connect with her at