Authors: Michael Collier
Copyright Â© 2006 by Michael Collier
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Collier, Michael, date.
Dark wild realm / Michael Collier.
1. BirdsâPoetry. 2. Human-animal
Printed in the United States of America
Book design by Robert Overholtzer
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The mind shapes bodies
that take on other shapes,
changes no one but gods should make.
And so I ask the gods
to let this song lead deftly,
back and forth through time,
until it finds the shape
of the world's beginning.
One had feathers like a blood-streaked koi,
another a tail of color-coded wires.
One was a blackbird stretching orchid wings,
another a flicker with a wounded head.
All flew like leaves fluttering to escape,
bright, circulating in burning air,
and all returned when the air cleared.
One was a kingfisher trapped in its bower,
deep in the ground, miles from water.
Everything is real and everything isn't.
Some had names and some didn't.
Named and nameless shapes of birds,
HOW SNOW ARRIVES
at night my hand can touch your feathers
and then I wipe the vernix from your wings,
you who have made bright things from shadows,
you who have crossed the distances to roost in me.
The pine trees stood without snow,
though snow was in the air,
a day or two away, forming in the place
where singing forms the air.
"Mother?" is what I heard my mother say,
said in such a way she knew
didn't know her, as if they stood
beneath the trees and breathed the singing air.
How frail the weather when its face
is blank or, startled, turns to find
its startled self in a child's voice,
flake by flake of the arriving snow.
"Mother?" is what I say, as if
I didn't know her, standing blank
and startled where she stands beneath
the trees amid the singing air.
Three days after our friend died,
having dropped to his knees
at the feet of his teammates,
we are sitting in a long,
narrow, windowless chapel,
staring at his casket
that runs parallel to the pews.
It's like a balance beam
or a bench you could sit onâ
floral sprays around it,
a wooden lectern behind,
and a priest nobody knew,
a man I'd seen in the parking lot,
pulling on a beret and stamping out
a cigarette, all in one move,
as he emerged from his car,
holding a black book.
And now he is reassuring us
that our friend is in
a better place, that God,
too soon, has called him home,
a mystery faith endures.
Occasionally he looks down
to check his watch, the habit
of a man who always has
a next place to be, which must be why
he barely stays to finish the job.
ABOUT THE MOTH
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Our friend
had the most beautiful voice
and his guitar was as cool
and smart, soulful
in its registers. When he played,
he gave his body to the music,
his eyes closed sometimes and his head bent,
sheltering what he made of himself,
his fingers knowing the next place
and the nextâhis voice, tooâ
taking each of us with him.
If you think the dead understand silence,
then why do they light their hems
and burn in dresses? Why do they fan their wings
against screens and windows as if they wanted in?
Why do they show their wiry contraptions
dusty with age and almost useless?
They only want to wake us with their light
unraveled from upper darkness.
They only want to hear us speak our reassurances.
Love will conquer, the heart endures.
And when they've leftâflames, dustâ
and franticâwe want them back,
not the friends and parents they once had been
but their new presences, sharp, unequivocal,
buoyant in their crossing back and forth,
inhabiting the condition they've become.
I was waiting for the frequency of my attention
to be tuned to an inner stationâall mind but trivial matter,
wavelengths modulated like topiary swans on a topiary sea,
and not quite knowing where the tide would take me.
In the darkness where I kneeled, I heard whispering,
like dry leaves. It had a smellâbeeswax, smoke;
a colorâblack; and a shape like a thumb.
That's when the door slid open and the light that years ago
spoke to me, spoke again, and through the veil,
an arm, like a hand-headed snake, worked through,
seven-fingered, each tipped with sin. What the snake couldn't see,
I saw, even as it felt what I felt or heard what I said.
Then along my arms boils and welts rose, on my back
scourge marks burned. I counted nails, thorns.
In my mind, inside my own death's head, I could hear: "Please,
forgive me. Do not punish me for what I cannot be."
It was the night before the anniversary
of your death, and the dream I had
was not of you but of a neighbor
who the day before had undergone some tests.
He stood in his yard holding a rake
the size of a palm frond.
The grass was brown and the leaves
on all the trees hung as they do in summer,
patiently, not concerned they'll fall.
It was the night before the anniversary
of your death, and my neighbor with the rake
had not yet heard the results of his tests
and so he wanted to be ready for the leaves.
He wanted to apologize as well for being
in my dream. He said, "It's not like me
to die." "You're not dying," I told him,
"you're only in my dream." Then he disappeared.
But the rake he'd held stood by itself,
and the grass, now green, grew quickly
up the rake and sculpted a creature
whose wings stretched over me to catch
the falling leaves, for all at once
it was autumn and the sky let loose
its winter fox and then its hound,
BIRD CRASHING INTO WINDOW
though neither moved, and so the space between them
grew, slowly at first, until it was at the speed
of the world, unseen, spinning like time itself,
pushing apart lover and beloved.
In cartoons they do it and then get up,
a carousel of stars, asterisks, and question marks
trapped in a caption bubble above a dizzy,
flattened head that pops back into shape.
But this one collapsed in its skirt of red feathers
and now its head hangs like a closed hinge and its beak,
a yellow dart, is stuck in the gray porch floor
and seems transformed foreverâa broken gadget,
a heavy shuttlecockâand yet it's not all dead.
The breast palpitates, the bent legs scrabble,
and its eye, the one that can't turn away,
fish-egg black, stares and blinks.
Behind me, sitting in a chair, his head resting
on a pillow, a friend recites
it's not the tumor or the treatment that's wasted
what his memory captured years ago in school.
Never mind he drops more than a line
or two. It's not a
lean and flashy song
though that's what he'd preferâhis hair
wispy, his head misshapen.
HOW DID IT GET INSIDE?
Beyond the window, the wind shakes down
the dogwood petals, beetles drown in sap,
and bees paint themselves with pollen. "Get up! Fly away!"
my caption urges. "Get up, if you can!"
Not a message in a bottle
but the keel and wrongs,
the lap and brightwork,
beams and thwarts, and belowdecks,
in berths, hammocks hung.
Yardarms unfurled reefed sails.
Lines zinged through tackle.
Sizing stiffened the jib.
Hemp keelhauled pilferers
of the mess. But now it rides
at anchor in a dark room
where dust occludes the mind's eye.
TO THE MORTICIAN'S SON
Even so, you can hear
the deckhand's wooden leg,
like a butter churn, thump
to the memory of his sawed-off limb,
and the one-eyed crewmen gauge
the captain's rusted hook.
Somehow the corked-up wind
still swirls, the spinnaker bursts.
Speed moves the clouds
and the clouds disperse.
And the first mate's parrot,
wired to its perch, knowsâ
crow's nest to storm anchorâ
once you've survived
the worst, the log records:
hope first, then skill.
No choice but to be your father's son
and yet never to be him, who moved like vapor,
who stood secure as a pillar,
and yet if not for you, prodigal,
stuffed in a dark suit,
if you had not tried to hand a program
to the deceased's ex
and usher her down the aisle like any mourner,
I would not find you consoling now,
not that I found you unsettling then,
or that your slovenly discomfort would be memorable,
especially the next day
when we interred my friend,
and you, positioned above the grave,
after a while made little steps
to move our small party down the hill
toward the black cars. Consoling
because my friend would have loved
how unfit you were for the family trade
and perhaps even enjoyed
how you peeved his former wife,
though not from malice,
and made of his death some melodrama,
human and absurd.
Of its productivityâ
Â Â Â whim of blossomingâ
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â hope that came
of its luck, of shade
Â Â Â struck triumphantly:
Â Â Â Â Â Â of this, so much worry.
Of its constant failure,
Â Â Â travail trailing the tendering
Â Â Â Â Â Â hand, and its rise by leaf,