James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and fifty times and has been recognized with many awards. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was granted a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the AestheticaCreative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry. Recently, two of his novels were Finalists for the United Kingdom’s Wishing Shelf Book Awards.
I imagine you looking at the robins’ nest in the Maple outside your bedroom window. You can’t see the blue eggs, but you watch the male bring his partner dry grass and twigs. He offers dirt, too, dipped in a birdbath or garnered from a swampy spot at the yard’s edge. The female cements the nest, protecting her brood of four or five. Sometimes you stare at your body cast, a remnant of your spinal surgery, but most hours you watch the tree, the birds, the clouds, and the sky. The days pass slowly, but at the two-week mark, you see tips of yellow mouths, like tulips or other flowers you used to smell in the lawn beyond. You think of the day your hardened mold cracks open and you walk outside. How you will look upward, smiling widely, scanning the blue and clouds and sun, hoping to glimpse a fledgling, or any free bird, flying far across the sky. Where it travels is not your concern. Your joy is that it does.
I’d like to be the Wife of Bath’s scarlet stockings Poor Yorick’s skull Dickinson’s sherry in the glass Gatsby’s dock Hulga’s wooden leg a flattened sneaker on a road a crushed beer can in a dumpster a lost sock under a couch a rip in a screen a penny on a walk a snail’s shell beneath a bush a crow’s feather on a deck a broken twig on a lawn a puddle by a drain or that dried leaf you crumble in your hand.
You sit in the cafeteria corner, oblivious to the old teacher watching you. Too busy avoiding eye contact with peers, fingertips white from pressing so hard against the open book you're not reading. As if this ritual would prevent the cool kids from looking and laughing at your expense. You want to be invisible because you feel unlikeable and unimportant. You think, Why would anyone talk to me? Someday, when you're truly reading and the book is full of poetry, I hope you chance upon this page to discover that a gray-haired teacher cared about you many years ago. Know that you were never insignificant, the cool kids were simply silly, and you mattered much to him.