blackbirdonline journalSpring 2014  Vol. 13  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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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 mistakes
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
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
real    elegance of a finished thing  end  

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