The Bird People
Up here the sky appears flat, marbled
as the endsheets of an old book, a gray
bas-relief worn smooth. Birds
of every size and color circle us in a blur:
our cloaks and caftans, our lack of feathers
surely curious to them. We are learning to fear
what they fear:
this bare, nestless branch, the marbled
visage of the raccoon, wings without feathers,
the unblinking world in shades of gray,
one of us being cast from the flock in a blur
of anger or scorn. We must band together as birds
do when hunted or when shoved into bird-
cages, those ghettoes of unrelenting fear
and flightlessness. We must be content with the blurry
comfort of each others’ company: Ephraim in his marbled
shawl, Judith with a baby on her back, the gray
lethargy of Samuel, Simon with his feathery
whiskers. Nights are the worst. Even a feather
falling can stutter us awake, and the nightbirds’
lonely vowels remind us that this gray
branch is our only home. They banished us out of fear,
corralled us in this tree, though our children’s faces were marbled
with cold. Up here the nights are one long blur.
Do they despise our alien language, the throaty blur
of our consonants, the feathery
prayers we offer up to the marble
ear of God? Yahweh! Teach us to live like birds.
Reward us with claws. Banish our fear.
Prove to us that heaven is not gray!
Ah, the gray light of morning floats over us like feathers
and around us the blurred carnival of birds.
Yahweh, we breakfast on fear, let us not sup on marble.
(After Goya’s “Disparate ridïculo”)
Means of Flight
I am Cro-Magnon, he is Bonaparte
and we are flying, flying, flying.
We are afraid that if we nod off
we won’t wake up.
What if the land below us
vanishes? What if
strapped and wired to these great bat wings
and we have to stay
crouched and flapping forever?
(After Goya’s “Modo de volar”)
During the Sorties over Baghdad
A woman works with lace panels.
Under and under again: that is the beauty
of French seams. First to flatten with steam
back and forth back and forth.
Then to stitch the unwavering rows
the perfect parallels, all measures metric
all precise. To pinpoint the trajectory
to plant the staccato thread under and under.
This is the music of a thousand nights:
curtains scattered with trellises and roses
scalloped along the valance and edges. Curtains
fit for a window without flaw:
Eight glass polygons, caulked, soldered
fringed with the January frost, overlooking
a city that has never been bombed.