Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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a flooded sestina

We follow rain like you wouldn’t believe.
—Nancy Bechtol, head of facilities, Smithsonian Museum

There’s rain again like you wouldn’t believe
raining into lake America:
the oldest scripts coiling away
in cuttlefishy ink: radio
sermons and vaudeville
bound in indigo covers. The statues
aim their rifles
like collapsed umbrellas—
only some men are waterproof.
It is a truth held to be
self-evident. Nothing holds truth
as clearly as a bucket.
The night workers believe
in trash bags and kitty litter;
a torn umbrella to shield
Darwin’s famous godwits.
There are scripts for emergency,
not slow sinking. The statues
watch impassively. The news
blares a sermon about arks
and wickedness. The dry,
in the sermon, are righteous.
The sequins unglue like truth
from Dorothy’s famous slippers:
red spotlit statues. It’s unclear
how we’ll ever get home,
how the belief in home
became a kind of drowning.
Postscripts promise freedom,
sump pumps, umbrellas.
One says, May you have an accident
shaped like an umbrella,
which could mean a storm
like a God-breathy sermon
or wind like wind
will blow us inside out,
waterlogged scripts bleeding
their boldest letters. If the truth
is a raft, what’s the river?
One worker says, We’ve come to believe
the best museum would be a closed box
[holding statutes, CCC poems, “Sittin On the Dock
of the Bay,” and statues] with no windows
or doors. It’s mostly a joke,
like umbrellas on blustery days.
It’s never been a good country
to be left as an object. The doors are sealed
with packing tape and sermons,
yet water ripples the velvet
theater seats. There are truths
the wet vacs can’t dry: antebellum
porcelain with tiny scripted-filigree
initials. Someone handpainted
that script, dreaming
of hush harbors, mute trees
like statues. That this country
has always been a rainstorm
is a truth. Also, all museums leak
history. Someone sells umbrellas.
Someone builds a plastic-bag
dam, saves declarations,
sermons. Someone sells cherry-red
flood barriers; pedals the belief
each American is born
with an umbrella, unscripted
freedom to open it. No matter
what you believe, the museum’s
closing early—ankle-deep, waist-deep, statue-
deep in rain’s only true sermon.  

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