After a 19th-century wool felt hat trimmed with starling feathers, silk, and sycamore beads at the Victoria and Albert Museum

My darling E—,

For you I would wish nothing more
nor less than a whole starling
upon your hat. The hat maker will have
peeled back the skin to elongate
its beak. You deserve nothing
that is not improved in the way
I shall be with your patient understanding
and gentle guidance. The hat will be the color
of a deer grazing in the glade
in late summer. Your hand’s warmth
I wish to capture as the milliner
can. If sometimes the brim glances against your brow
or your cheekbone, know that I would pierce
my heart with a thousand albatross feathers
to make my own fingers soft and fine
enough to do the same.

Yours with enduring devotion,


Ray Ball grew up in a house full of snakes. She is a history professor, a Best of the Net and Pushcart-nominated poet, and poetry editor at Coffin Bell. Her chapbook Tithe of Salt came out with Louisiana Literature Press in the spring of 2019, and she has recent publications in descant, Gingerbread House, and SWWIM Every Day. You can find her in the classroom, in the archives, or on Twitter @ProfessorBall.