I told the boy I found him under a bush.
What was the harm? I told him he was sleeping   
And that a black swan slept beside him,
The swan’s feathers hot, the scent of the hot feathers   
And of the bush’s hot white flowers
As rank and sweet as the stewed milk of a goat.   
The bush was in a strange garden, a place   
So old it seemed to exist outside of time.   
In one spot, great stone steps leading nowhere.
In another, statues of horsemen posting giant stone horses   
Along a high wall. And here, were triangular beds   
Of flowers flush with red flowers. And there,   
Circular beds flush with white. And in every bush   
And bed flew small birds and the cries of small birds.   
I told the boy I looked for him a long time   
And when I found him I watched him sleeping,   
His arm around the swan’s moist neck,   
The swan’s head tucked fast behind the boy’s back,   
The feathered breast and the bare breast breathing as one,   
And then very swiftly and without making a sound,   
So that I would not wake the sleeping bird,   
I picked the boy up and slipped him into my belly,   
The way one might slip something stolen   
Into a purse. And brought him here….
And so it was. And so it was. A child with skin   
So white it was not like the skin of a boy at all,
But like the skin of a newborn rabbit, or like the skin   
Of a lily, pulseless and thin. And a giant bird   
With burning feathers. And beyond them both   
A pond of incredible blackness, overarched
With ancient trees and patterned with shifting shades,   
The small wind in the branches making a sound
Like the knocking of a thousand wooden bells….   
Things of such beauty. But still I might
Have forgotten, had not the boy, who stands now   
To my waist, his hair a cap of shining feathers,
Come to me today weeping because some older boys   
Had taunted him and torn his new coat,   
Had he not, when I bent my head to his head,   
Said softly, but with great anger, “I wish I had never   
Been born. I wish I were back under the bush,”   
Which made the old garden rise up again,   
Shadowed and more strange. Small birds   
Running fast and the grapple of chill coming on.   
There was the pond, half-circled with trees. And there   
The flowerless bush. But there was no swan.   
There was no black swan. And beneath   
The sound of the wind, I could hear, dark and low,   
The giant stone hooves of the horses,   
Striking and striking the hardening ground.

More by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

The Leaving

My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond's cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper's stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was--I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water--full of fish and eyes.

The Visitation

God sends his tasks 
and one does 
them or not, but the sky 
delivers its gifts 
at the appointed 
times: With spit and sigh, 
with that improbable 
burst of flame, the balloon 
comes over
the cornfield, bringing 
another country 
with it, bringing 
from a long way off 
those colors that are at first 
the low sound
of a horn, but soon 
are many horns, and clocks, 
and bells, and clappers 
and your heart 
rising to the silence 
in all of them, a silence 
so complete that 
the heads of the corn 
bow back before it 
and the dog flees in terror 
down the road 
and you alone are left 
gazing up
at three solemn visitors
swinging
in a golden cage
beneath that unbelievable chorus of red
and white, swinging
so close you cannot move
or speak, so close
the road grows wet with light,
as when the sun flares,
after an evening storm
and you become weightless, falling
back in the air
before the giant oak 
that with a fiery burst 
the balloon
just clears.

The Satyr's Heart


Now I rest my head on the satyr's carved chest,
The hollow where the heart would have been, if sandstone
Had a heart, if a headless goat man could have a heart.
His neck rises to a dull point, points upward
To something long gone, elusive, and at his feet
The small flowers swarm, earnest and sweet, a clamor
Of white, a clamor of blue, and black the sweating soil
They breed in...If I sit without moving, how quickly
Things change, birds turning tricks in the trees,
Colorless birds and those with color, the wind fingering
The twigs, and the furred creatures doing whatever
Furred creatures do. So, and so.  There is the smell of fruit
And the smell of wet coins. There is the sound of a bird
Crying, and the sound of water that does not move...
If I pick the dead iris?  If I wave it above me
Like a flag, a blazoned flag?  My fanfare? Little fare
with which I buy my way, making things brave? The way
Now I bend over and with my foot turn up a stone,
And there they are: the armies of pale creatures who
Without cease or doubt sew the sweet sad earth.