Jennifer Page

Dead Sparrows

 

1. 

 

It first clutched the grille

of the mystery woman's car

     without a ruffle, dead 

eyes full of high July sunlight

and no more than that, ever again.

She paid me a few dollars to undertake it

then disappeared from our lives.

 

We were a crowd, soon, slim-shouldered

girls and one boy around our very first grave, 

a last shallow nest for our newly beloved 

dead, hacked out with a broken teacup.

 

We made a solemn hour of it, wrapped the body

in clean paper, tucked it about with flowers, 

with wishes, with hard little seeds. We argued

about location, about God and about my fee,

about how long any one of us could hang on

to a moving vehicle. 

 

We piled it over with cool gravel.

One of us wept, for real. All of it 

was dug out and scattered by morning.

 

2. 

 

More money changes hands thirty years on. 

This time I'm the one who pays to be admitted,

to file with the rest through Natural History.

 

I'm an hour deep, halfway through 

the long museum when I meet it again,

the Common Sparrow, unwrapped

     pinned and nestled

between a thousand or so of its more

and less exotic cousins, under placards

on Darwinism and desire. 

 

One brown-gray moment among the others, 

fine of feather, cataloged and tagged

at the ankle, in neat taxidermic font

 

so that we are all very clear

     as we shuffle past

about this common thing, brought flightless and low

and still for our considering. 

My Mother’s Funeral

 

If you’ve had one by now I wasn’t invited
but I’ve crashed it many times. There are no
mournful numbers, no ashes, no priests
though you will probably still keep
your turquoise rosary close by.

Saint Anne of the housewives will make sure
I return your stolen sapphires, and Sylvia’s
great demon sow will guard the cardinal
directions of your going. 

Because you were bitter as Hecuba
I will bring black dogs to heel
at your graveside. We will drink Guinness
to your fathers, quinine to your mothers.

Because you were only ever given one rose
that mattered to you, I will bring fists full
of ragweed, ironweed and bull thistle
to protect you from the weak and insincere.

Because you were once a daughter but not
like me, I will touch your hair, warm
the clever bird of your hand between mine
and we will have something like tenderness.

Because you were my mother I will light
blue candles to your memory then play
with the matches, catch the carpet on fire,
shatter teapots and torment the golden son
of your faithless wartime.

Because you are not my mother any more, I will be able
to breathe, to relax my left shoulder.
I will tell you lies and other loving things
with a clear conscience.

Small Arms

I know that you killed and were

killed, that you somehow lived

and died by it. I've measured

the years of my infancy 

against the dates of conflict 

and disengagement. We are meant

to be strange to each other, 

this much is clear. 

 

Your secret life: a dozen

stops between Bangkok, Saigon. 

You discovered Buddhism,

Chao Phraya and the Mekong

all from above. The radio 

and the reconnaissance lens 

remember you forever.

Your stone is carved.

 

I holed up in the housing,

made wishes on a postcard

of a worn Khmer temple

and held my breath

until I was five.

 

When you came home, I only

saw your stranger’s hands at their 

weekend chores in the yard, 

only ever saw your strong 

stag's neck bent over a paper. 

We did not seek each other.  

My arms could never

have circled you. 

 

You left before I could ask,

before I could watch 

the field strip, the recoil

and sear, the lock and pin.

 

Before I could see you

at the work of your heart

and witness how much happens 

counter clockwise 

when the world disassembles.

 
 
 

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray