17-year-old-beth-sherman
Still Life with Cattle Egrets
by Beth Sherman

Flying over the Intercoastal
White heron gulls, silent as ghosts

A few flaps and a glide, their bills thrust
Forward, beaks slicing the clouds.

I glance up from the Physics Regents Review
Flick my cigarette ash into a half-empty can of TAB.

Younger than my daughter is now,
In cut-off shorts and tie-dye halter top.

The Doobie Brothers blasting on my transistor,
First-degree burns on my feet from where I’d

Forgotten to smear on Coppertone.
My grandmother doesn’t mind if I smoke on her

Terrace. There are only two rules —
No weed. And no getting naked with strangers.

It’s the day before Christmas and already
I’ve broken them both. Across the canal,

Cattle egrets balance on the backs of cows,
Nasty little birds that give me the stink

Eye when we drive past them on the way to Publix.
If I knew what was coming I’d have made it

A less disposable moment: The egrets picking
flies off the cows. The skin on my belly

Smooth and tan above the bikini line. Taut calves,
Perky breasts, my careless body not yet

Invisible beneath wrinkles and rolls of flesh.
At least the cattle egrets haven’t changed.

Still gawky as ever skimming fish-deprived lakes,
Eying me coldly, that same self-satisfied gaze.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me,  at 17 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, during the spring of 1976.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Still Life with Cattle Egrets” is about the winter break I spent at my grandmother’s condo in Pembroke Pines, Florida, when I was a junior in high school. I remember sitting on her terrace, looking at the inter-coastal waterway and being intensely dissatisfied with my life. Now, looking back, I wish I had appreciated my youth and its attendant pleasures more.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Beth Sherman received an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope, and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize in 2016. She has also written five mystery novels.