on empathy

what it sounds like is a bird breaking small bones against glass. the least of them, a sparrow, of course. you’re about to serve dinner and this is the scene. blame the bird, the impertinent windows, try not to think of the inconvenience of blood splattering violet in the dusk. how can you eat after this? do not think of whom to blame when the least of us hurdles into the next moment. a pane opening into another. the least of us spoiling your meal.


the smell of it will be smoke and rank. you will mutter about this for days, the injustice of splatter on your window. foolish bird. civilization. house with the view. fucking bird feeder. it will take you a week, while the flesh starts to rot under thinning feathers, while the blood has congealed and stuck, for you to realize that no one is coming to take the body. it is your dead bird. it is your glass. you have options you think. hire out. move out. leave it for the bigger blacker birds.


you will taste rotting just above the top of your tongue. so much, that you check yourself to make sure that it is not you. the bird deserves something. you go to the closet, pick out a shoe box. discount? designer? you start to think of how it has come to this: pondering your mortality through a bird. a dead bird. never-mind. you don’t find it a problem not running into windows.


it is an eyesore and we start to gather as large billows in your yard. you marvel at us, beautiful, collecting and loosening our dark bodies from white sky to your grass. and then it comes. more bones and blood. one by one crashing into the closed pane. mindless birds. brown and gray feathers. filthy pests. another. fucking feeder. we look like billions lifting into flight and then—shatter.


you might find a delicate humility in the art of cleaning glass. while you work, you sustain tiny slivers of opened flesh. tips of your fingers sing. shards, carnage, it has become too much. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you call a repairman. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you throw everything into big shiny trash bags. you are careful to pick up all that you can see. you consider french doors. you are careful to pick up all that you can see and find more with each barefoot trip through your bloodbath house.

Not My Ancestors

I, heiress of red embers
the fiercest of which burn the uncareful hand

See my one great grandmother what
had the misfortune of disciplining her husband

who thought he could come upside her
head about something or other.

Without missing a beat, she, damn physics,
wield a cast iron pot against his head.

This same short, blunt arm would nurse
twelve children, the youngest only two years 

before her own death. She willed nothing
but her blood. Stout bodied women

with heavy wants and hands, hearts overripe
and prone to leaking. Mama on my grandmother’s side

held a shotgun aimed to the head of any white man 
come up the road. Papa would greet him with one of his own 

just as unfriendly and kind under her sharp shooting eye.
I’ve never held a loaded gun, too afraid I might

turn it on myself. They had Jesus and a wood
burning stove. What do I know about protecting

any body particularly my own? Things inherited,
things learnt, may singed palms pitch to know.

Related Poems

No Ruined Stone

When the dead return
they will come to you in dream
and in waking, will be the bird
knocking, knocking against glass, seeking
a way in, will masquerade
as the wind, its voice made audible
by the tongues of leaves, greedily
lapping, as the waves’ self-made fugue
is a turning and returning, the dead
will not then nor ever again
desert you, their unrest
will be the coat cloaking you,
the farther you journey
from them the more
that distance will maw in you,
time and place gulching
when the dead return to demand
accounting, wanting
and wanting and wanting
everything you have to give and nothing
will quench or unhunger them
as they take all you make as offering.
Then tell you to begin again.

From the Ground It Must Have Looked Like Its Wings Were Not a Part of It

I rode to Heaven on a bird that did-

n’t look like any bird I ever saw

Before I saw it    the bird’s wings    were wide

And long and brightly    colored and had no


Feathers but    panels    like glass    held together

By black bones criss-    crossing them from the ground

They must have looked like stained glass flying to Heaven

Church windows carrying    a black bird’s wing-


less body and my body up    between them

The bird’s    body was black as the night sky

Was back    when I was running with my momma

Before I wouldn’t    run no more and she

Beat me and Mrs. Davis saw and took me

Like glass    like any hard thing    would’ve broke them




Still Waiting

for Alison Saar

Please approach with care these figures in black.
Regard with care the weight they bear,
                      the scars that mark their hearts.
Do you think you can handle these bodies of graphite & coal dust?
This color might rub off. A drop of this red liquid
                      could stain your skin.
This black powder could blow you sky high.
No ordinary pigments blacken our blues.
Would you mop the floor with this bucket of blood?
Would you rinse your soiled laundry in this basin of tears?
Would you suckle hot milk from this cracked vessel?
Would you be baptized in this fountain of funky sweat?
Please approach with care
                      these bodies still waiting to be touched.
We invite you to come closer.
We permit you to touch & be touched.
We hope you will engage with care.