by Matthew Tuckner

On Wellbutrin, I can never remember
if Alabama has two state birds or one.
When the fact returns, with the lightning
strike of synapse fire, I forget it instantly, again.
It is said that if you learn a fact in a swimming pool,
and forget that fact driving through Andalusia,
you have more of a chance of remembering
that fact if you find yourself, once again,
in a swimming pool. It has been said
that memory is like Santa’s sack: red,
retractable, and endless. There is a
swimming pool in Andalusia where the water is
blue like the treasures of a bowerbird, where juniper trees
fold themselves over their age-worn wounds. Some
juniper trees bend like a curved spine before
the time of death. On Wellbutrin, I try to remember
what the juniper tree turns into when it dies. Does it
send spores outward like a signal to alert others of the
unlistenable? I have to look at pictures to remind myself.
It is true that a tree can actually choke and die. This is called
girdling. It happens when animals and fungi eat at
the newest bark of a tree, disallowing the passage
of nutrients, stoppering up the xylem channels.
It is true that a tree grows a ring around the
fatal wound, to protect itself and the others
trees that surround it. In some ways, I have
built a ring around my wound to protect
the others that surround me. But my others
are human beings. The wound is blocked
from progression in all directions; crown-ward,
root-ward, sideways along the waist of my trunk.
If the wound was able to work its way up to the
crown of the juniper tree; if nature stopped its progress
for the sake of explanation, one would find the northern
flicker, the state bird of Alabama, pushing a laugh through
its beak: ki ki ki ki. On Wellbutrin, it can
often feel like you have sucked down a kaleidoscope
of butterflies. Swimming helps. The northern flicker
takes what it can get. They use ants as antacids. They rip
the wings off the european corn borer when bored.
I ink its wingspan on the outer-capsule of my pills,
making my mark, splitting the powder in half
to lessen the side effects. I bring on the worse
bout of lepidopterism I have yet had. I relish
in the diseases of caterpillars and moths. Sometimes
it is called moth dermatitis. It is not so different from
depression: a wish to be both closer and to become
a flying thing. An eagle will drop a tortoise from
hundreds of feet in the air, using a rock to get at
what’s inside. This is how Aeschylus died. His
bald head reminded the eagle of something
it hated about itself. I drive away from nature.
I can remember the names of bald eagles
given names by families of fallen soldiers.
When I look in the sky, when I see a bald eagle in
Andalusia, I say “Greetings, Glory!” I shout
“Salutations, Volunteer,” not knowing who I’m
looking at or who I’m talking to. I know what
a bald eagle is but I can only seldom remember the name
of the state bird of Alabama. I whisper its many names to myself
as I crawl across the country at an emotionally
balanced, well-regulated pace. I place prayers for
myself and those above me: the yellow hammer, the
clape, the gaffer woodpecker, the Harry-wicket, the heigh ho,
the wake-up, the walk-up, the wick-up, the yarrup, and the
gawker bird. Wellbutrin SR is also known by its chemical name,
Bupropion or by a vast assortment of brand names: Budeprion,
AplenzinZyban (as a smoking cessation aid),
Buproban, and Forfivo XL. My medicine bag is
as deep as Santa’s sack. I often wonder if Santa
ever gets stuck in trees; juniper trees, to be exact. Do
his reindeer ever break their legs from overwork? Do
they crack open their bodies against the highest reaching
branches? What would Santa look like, all blood-red
in Red Bay, Alabama? I begin to cry, driving through
a layer of gauze. I am often disabused of this thinking
by concerned professionals. I am told to focus on my passion
for ornithology. Which reminds me, Alabama
has another state bird: the wild turkey. Turkeys
have excellent vision, their heads can change colors
within seconds, and often belying their own underestimation,
find themselves in flight.

back to University & College Poetry Prizes