Observing the Arsonist was written for a friend who experienced child abuse as a young boy.
Three Nights with Crow
To climb through layered dreams and lift the last tissue of waking, to
find soot on the pillow, prints splayed and wet. For three nights there
are nameless children in cribs, faceless people I’ve forgotten to feed and
coddle. When the nursery door opens, they move into the next room
through walls, like ghosts. I’ve given names to even earrings and the
tags around the dog’s neck—names like sweet ones, and
low-jingles—now when it matters, there are only crossword
puzzles with boxes half-filled, the forgotten syllable, the blind
hope of touch. He dips his beaked face over mine, eyes widely
spaced, sore from flying into the sun—grips the off-green egg with
care—lays it within the slippery-walled nest among wood
shavings, kapok and horse hair for its eighteen-day gestation.
Deeper still, to the place truths unrobe, where children
wear avian heads (feathers bristled along their spines), where
he removes human offspring, arcs overhead, returns for the mother.
Recompense He guides me to the soft center of the mattress, his talons pucker my night sheets, his pinions press deep.
His third eye centered and obvious in profile, studies my stash of shortbread cookies. I offer him one,
watch crumbs skitter across the bed. I ask his reason for disturbing my dreams. He apologizes, offers his secret
for richer cookies, a fistful of pecans, shares his true purpose in visiting: his sorrow for the loss of habitat, his family’s
frequent relocation. I listen to his doleful stories, his voice softened from ginger and tears, his poorly-concealed
fears. To trap his bright body, trace my name along his slippery back, indelible proof of our meeting, to release him from the
silt of my dreams. An unnecessary offering, he says, praising the lift of his own wings, deriding the density of human
form, how lithe his own. He compares the length of pinion to arm, then the surprise request for recompense.
Bring us your children dressed in beaded muslin, braid their hair with thin wire, perfume their skin with milk of aloe.
I find muslin in the attic, fine wire for binding, round tins with clattering beads. The plant is milked at the kitchen sink, the children
awakened one moment after midnight. I smooth back their hair, watch them stretch and quiver in their agreeable tiredness.
Barbed calls filter down the chimney with a lover’s insistence, Bring us your children dressed in muslin, scented with aloe.
I struggle to open the flu, build up a fire from dry kindling. I ease the children away from the flames, kiss the tops of
their heads, ask them to huddle close; but they are squirming in discomfort, the prickly beginnings of wings, foreheads
opened raw and blinking. As the sky turns white, a hundred blackbirds on the line, three hundred eyes looking inward. The
children have brought me their boxes of mismatched puzzles, keyless diaries. On their slight shoulders, jackets of feathers.
(Published in Progenitor)
I’m gathering evidence of hope news taken from the paper people are eating again in Darfur or eating a little
or some of the people are eating a little I want to get this right so I reread the news fourth page second column the noise of too many morning voices reverberating off the ceiling I observe people in conversation we’ve all stumbled into famine of a different kind
logos cover every surface opulence for the common man I like it here the feel of it when I walk through the door the girl knows my drink extra-hot latte with caramel drizzled on top
I cannot turn away from excess from the cup steaming my glasses from the measured geography of hope from the next paragraph people in hard-backed chairs leaving scones broken on too many pristine plates
(Published in Alimentum)
Approaching the Delta
We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. —Anton Chekov
I want to be there when mourning doves glide above the river, downstream where
leaves and branches snare on rocks, where deer hesitate to go further. I want to be
there when this war ends, and the next, where under cover of trees we touch
the wind with our nakedness. When there are no words left, only emptiness angular
with hope, I want to be there. The rush of us, dense thighs and arms entwined,
the world grown dark, water the only continual. Bodies buried nameless, the
quiet after; the named restless still. I want to be there, near the crookneck,
where water eddies, glides past in spirals, like the fingerprints of those gone,
left to memory and statistics, their voices snagged in branches overhead,
speaking little of fallen matter, but of water carried downstream with remnants
of winter, of the swift lure of salt right before the river becomes something else.