The Language Of Birds
She is singing French songs
through the bars of the cage
to the lovebird pecking
the cuttlebone, called Peter,
which, in the Bible, means “rock”—
but he is a clockwork of minuscule bones
draped, like a fog, in feathers.
He preens each day before the glass
and plays games he cannot win—
pin the button to the bars,
tap the code on a piece of horn,
the code no-one can decipher,
tear the newspaper with a toothless
beak, wear down the block of salt.
It is only vowels between them now,
pure vowels, and glass-like trills,
sounds reclaimed from the top of the tower
of Babel. He rings his bell, he strums
the bars, uncurls his wings as though
these sounds could somehow give him lift.
The weed has no mind,
except what I lend it, there
between two concrete slabs,
growing flowers so yellow
they burn in my sight, remain
long after I close my eyes,
as if I might see them in death,
smoking torches, sulphurous
beacons, guiding me on their
tough green stalks, lighting
the damp walls of the cave,
itself a borrowed mind, thinking
what stones must think when wet—
thinking sparks from flint,
thoughts about sharpening metal,
thinking what concrete thinks
when tree roots whisper deep down,
conspiring against its underside,
first a crack, then a gap,
a birthing ground for seed dust
to take hold, and rain to fill,
and then a stalk emerges, popping
buds, which become the living
thoughts of yellow beyond yellow.
-both poems previously published in Iota
Matins with Slippers and House Cat
Gumshoe is the sound of no sound.
The squeak of a dress shoe on linoleum rings
distinct from a sneaker on a hardwood court.
The sneak of the squeak is what matters.
I sit here in a squeaky chair, trying not to.
I position myself for zero-gravity effect.
Whole nations are attempting the same:
how to occupy the space between squeak
and no-squeak, that is the question.
My feet find their way into worn slippers.
The toes know to curl up for grip.
I pad through the house, in search of a snack,
some tea, or a book of poems. I glide.
The cat comes in to my office to question me.
She wants to know where I have hidden the dry food.
She wails as though she were starving, or mad.
I tell her that, after the French revolution, churches
were used to store grain. I spin in my chair for effect.
She is unimpressed. She only wants to know if
such an act would have brought mice to the altar.
I argue against utilitarianism. She leaves.
I have seen the sweat of nations bead on the brow
of the common worker. I have pilfered the ash cans
of Democracy, looking for butts. I have told
the priest his collar is guillotine-proof.
I have seen them in the night, rubbing chicken
blood on the rough wounds of the statues.
Forgive me, rose petals, my fingers
could not resist the habit of plucking.
Some would call it childish, and those
who waggle a shaming finger know best.
I do not own my hands, but slip into them
each morning like a pair of work gloves.
I flex to break up the stiffness, and they crackle
like damp embers stirring back to life.
They are all I have, these slender tongs,
to do what my mind instructs in the tactile world.
Sometimes when they mis-type a word,
I wonder what they are trying to tell me.
Maybe they want to ask about the wartime practice
of soldiers shooting off their trigger fingers—
were they more afraid of dying? Or of killing
someone with a gesture as slight and easy
as curling an index finger into a teacup?
Oh, look what we have done to you now,
little flower. Let us sweep the petals quickly,
from one full-fingered hand into the other.
-both poems previously published in Sugar Mule