Best of the Net 2015  

Bird Ephemera

after the daybooks of Emma Bell Miles, 1879-1919, essayist, poet,
and naturalist, Signal Mountain, Tennessee

the canned fruit bursts     it is
frozen     solid
so long     the sound is
quieter than it ought
to be     quiet as the birdless
tree of ice that bore
the peaches     there is no mess
there ought to be

                                                           I hear of worse     a woman
                                                           bedridden     her legs
                                                           her feet freeze
                                                           blacken     a quiet wither

                                                                                                                      this begins as penciled observation
                                                                                                                      sometimes words     a birdcall heard
                                                                                                                      sometimes an outline     eye—
                                                                                                                      draft     a drawing in greater detail if an
                                                                                                                      hour opens
                                                                                                                      its frozen gate     map
                                                                                                                      of the bird     primaries
                                                                                                                      coverts     secondaries     lore

the pages begin to fill     I
carry it     everywhere
in an apron pocket
to the field     the spring
a gully     the base of a tree     
a map a chart
anatomy     tarsus     I think
of this     eyestripe
when he is     on me

                                                           in this the record
                                                           of what winters
                                                           over     survives
                                                           with us     thrasher
                                                           hermit thrush     what
                                                           leaves     what leaves
                                                           the field is the same     here
                                                           as what leaves the eye
                                                           if I have this     evidence
                                                           of a bird     recorded
                                                           nuthatch     waxwing     there is
                                                           evidence of me
                                                           what I don't say     here
                                                           is not

                                                                                                                      and all is not what it
                                                                                                                      seems     muscle
                                                                                                                      memory of fire and iron—laden water
                                                                                                                      the new
                                                                                                                      baby much
                                                                                                                      like any other
                                                                                                                      the confinement the same same
                                                                                                                      trunk lid
                                                                                                                      its cradle

the man     the way he worries
a stump out
of the ground     the way
he rocks it     cradling
loose tooth     the way he fails
the same     gives up     folds his hands
in his lap for now     

                                                           the spine goes brittle     the glue
                                                           turns to sand     sprig
                                                           of fern dried in the pages
                                                           brittle comb     fragile
                                                           teeth sky—slight shadow
                                                           remains     the failing
                                                           of all color

                                                                                                                      a shadow is the same
                                                                                                                      as a cave     my twin
                                                                                                                      brother died before I
                                                                                                                      drew a breath     I have
                                                                                                                      to cut one
                                                                                                                      of my dresses     into two
                                                                                                                      for the girls
                                                                                                                      I had expected     the one
                                                                                                                      to die     before winter
                                                                                                                      not to learn to tell one
                                                                                                                      apart from the other

I cannot bear
another child     another
winter another     year
another     unimaginable
the enemies of the bird
man     the elements     
accident     other anomalies
birds of prey     snakes
my own the same

                                                           the butcher bird
                                                           impales smaller birds
                                                           snakes and moles     impales them
                                                           on barbwire and thorns
                                                           the weapon of this world

                                                                                                                      a tent     consumptive
                                                                                                                      on the grounds of the      hospital     
                                                                                                                      a lung collapsing     collapsing
                                                                                                                      light     a pole sunk
                                                                                                                      straight through the middle     
                                                                                                                      of the air

the neighbor's baby dies
again     a day
drags its length     a cowbell
drags its sound
no     it is wind
the hem of this
dress     dragging the ground

                                                           miscarriage     I will call it
                                                           suicide     I drank what I had
                                                           heard     a tincture     tansy cohosh
                                                           pennyroyal primrose     
                                                           mistletoe     what had hung
                                                           from a lintel at Christmastime
                                                           and still it clung
                                                           only to die at its birth
                                                           limp infant     dead word
                                                           on a pillowslip stained with it     
                                                           a wren in the tent     it enters
                                                           easy as air moving     easy
                                                           as grief

                                                                                                                      it eats from my hand     it
                                                                                                                      my hair for the stuff
                                                                                                                      of a nest     lichen from a boulder
                                                                                                                      spider's web hornet's nest
                                                                                                                      for the nest itself     
                                                                                                                      I wave it away     it returns
                                                                                                                      unafraid     as though
                                                                                                                      I am not     altogether me     
                                                                                                                      something made from the elsewhere
                                                                                                                      a thing to dissemble

on the water shelf
by the bucket
a nest lined
with lichen     stolen
remolded     in it
a shell halved     blue
thimble     needleless eye

                                                           the blind horse we can
                                                           afford     the blindness we
                                                           afford     all that doesn't
                                                           need to see this staggering
                                                           passage of ground

                                                                                                                      lace     a remnant of curtain
                                                                                                                      for a bookmark     a text
                                                                                                                      of bird and vine saved
                                                                                                                      for this     recollection
                                                                                                                      of a window     a warbled
                                                                                                                      pane of glass     now
                                                                                                                      this slip of a passage

a child lives long enough
to slip fixed into a name     
scarlet fever closing it     closing
the throat     he tells me     some other
house     I'm gonna go to some
other house
     what other
house has he ever been to
his brow smoothed     then some
other hand smoothing it

                                                           the kittens die
                                                           all     and still she looks
                                                           for them     calls     swollen
                                                           for them     she is not
                                                           this     she is cat     animal—
                                                           all whose young survive
                                                           her     have long forgotten
                                                           her when she bellies
                                                           under the house to die
                                                           having forgotten them     all

                                                                                                                      summer     the burning
                                                                                                                      of sedge grass     the cough
                                                                                                                      the wind weaving a shroud
                                                                                                                      melancholia the moss
                                                                                                                      on the stones in the springhouse

burning     I turn the children
out naked into the woods
the humid understory thicket
of switches     I am never more
than three meals from the nothing
I tell them there is     I finish
the last biscuit
watch it disappear
with them

                                                           this     this     a hymn
                                                           of shadow it is here     my own
                                                           translation     hurry
     a lexicon finished
                                                           betrothal was ever this     the weld
                                                           are you weary     the rent     
                                                           illusion that hour     
                                                           this one     when the thrush
                                                           can insist it is
                                                           not real
     and will     it is not real

                                                                                                                      barred owls     unseen     
                                                                                                                      caterwaul     vesper
                                                                                                                      sparrows     chimney
                                                                                                                      swifts     crisscross intricate
                                                                                                                      etching of afterimage
                                                                                                                      their delight in emptying the sky
                                                                                                                      emptying the eye     mine
                                                                                                                      in the dooryard     the swept     it is not
     elegance of a finished thing

— Claudia Emerson (from Blackbird)