Yesterday, at Shepherd and Gray, the parking lot was
filled with birds, black birds, actually grackles. It was a grackle
lot; instead of a bumper on a car, there were ten grackles, instead
of a sunroof, fifty grackles sat high, their bodies shimmers
under cheap strip mall lights as shoppers delayed their spending
to pull out phones and take shots, such spectators we were,
like that summer in July, when I was left again
to wonder who was the child and who the adult,
that Sunday evening that hung in the air like bug spray
when my father, the one who fed me and gave me his last name,
stood two stories on our family porch, every neighbor,
in all manner of dress, drawn from their homes, in the street watching.
Let me tell you how he spread his arms wide, like the man
he was before Vietnam, or before the schizophrenia.
Let me tell you how a child learns the alphabet by counting,
how she learns only 2 letters separate the words hero and heroin,
how he stood high on the ledge of a porch the child never much
liked because there was a crack in its wooden center as if the world
was waiting to open its jaws to swallow her body whole.
Let me tell you how that July evening didn’t hold death,
but instead was the preface to death. The point being he jumped.
Some will say there are worse songs to sing, others might believe it
a tragedy, but who are we to question the Gods when a man
unconcerned with the inconvenience of his presence shows up
in a parking lot winged as an army of himself? Eventually, lights
went dark in the shops and each watcher retraced their steps back home
to find their families, to rejoice over food, to laugh and settle the night;
and the birds, steadfast they stood, not quite ready for flight—

Related Poems

Harvest

The grackles plummet down to pierce the lawn

For seeds and fat brown live oak acorns and

Ignore the orange plastic watering cans

My daughters drop in the cold grass, my daughters

Saying, Goodnight grass, as if the blades they’d watered

By hand were their daughters, as if the grass

Were a feeling they’d been feeling, greenly

Reckoning the evening, the ball moss falling from the trees,

The sun circling the crouched shade of the weeping

Persimmon tree as mildly as the knife rounds

The persimmon I bring inside so I can say

Of the pierced skin, Look, this is the color we

Want sunset to be, the color of the plastic

Watering cans shocking the dark that falls

Over the suggestions of footprints in the grass,

The black grackles, and the acorns battering

Our metal roof while I feed my ravenous daughters

A soft dinner that they clutch with grubby hands and gnaw.

Looking Back on the Muckleshoot Reservation from Galisteo Street, Santa Fe

The bow of a Muckleshoot canoe, blessed
with eagle feather and sprig of yellow cedar,
is launched into a bay. A girl watches
her mother fry venison slabs in a skillet—
drops of blood sizzle, evaporate. Because
a neighbor feeds them, they eat wordlessly;
the silence breaks when she occasionally
gags, reaches into her throat, pulls out hair.
Gone is the father, riled, arguing with his boss,
who drove to the shooting range after work;
gone, the accountant who embezzled funds,
displayed a pickup and proclaimed a winning
flush at the casino. You donate chicken soup
and clothes but never learn if they arrive
at the south end of the city. Your small
acts are sandpiper tracks in wet sand.
Newspapers, plastic containers, beer bottles
fill bins along the sloping one-way street.

Indigo

As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive, a man runs
toward me pushing one of those jogging strollers
with shock absorbers so the baby can keep sleeping,
which this baby is. I can just get a glimpse
of its almost translucent eyelids. The father is young,
a jungle of indigo and carnelian tattooed
from knuckle to jaw, leafy vines and blossoms,
saints and symbols. Thick wooden plugs pierce
his lobes and his sunglasses testify
to the radiance haloed around him. I’m so jealous.
As I often am. It’s a kind of obsession.
I want him to have been my child’s father.
I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.
Not like my dead ex-husband, who was always
fighting against the flesh, who sat for hours
on his zafu chanting om and then went out
and broke his hand punching the car.
I imagine when this galloping man gets home
he’s going to want to have sex with his wife,
who slept in late, and then he’ll eat
barbecued ribs and let the baby teethe on a bone
while he drinks a cold dark beer. I can’t stop
wishing my daughter had had a father like that.
I can’t stop wishing I’d had that life. Oh, I know
it’s a miracle to have a life. Any life at all.
It took eight years for my parents to conceive me.
First there was the war and then just waiting.
And my mother’s bones so narrow, she had to be slit
and I airlifted. That anyone is born,
each precarious success from sperm and egg
to zygote, embryo, infant, is a wonder.
And here I am, alive.
Almost seventy years and nothing has killed me.
Not the car I totalled running a stop sign
or the spirochete that screwed into my blood.
Not the tree that fell in the forest exactly
where I was standing—my best friend shoving me
backward so I fell on my ass as it crashed.
I’m alive.
And I gave birth to a child.
So she didn’t get a father who’d sling her
onto his shoulder. And so much else she didn’t get.
I’ve cried most of my life over that.
And now there’s everything that we can’t talk about.
We love—but cannot take
too much of each other.
Yet she is the one who, when I asked her to kill me
if I no longer had my mind—
we were on our way into Ross,
shopping for dresses. That’s something
she likes and they all look adorable on her—
she’s the only one
who didn’t hesitate or refuse
or waver or flinch.
As we strode across the parking lot
she said, O.K., but when’s the cutoff?
That’s what I need to know.