Shattered Wig #28

Shattered Wig #28
Coming In November!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"A thousand or a hundred thousand birds" by Lily Herman

Sometimes, unlike a recent ten minute trip to the CVS for some pricing stickers where I walked in on a botched robbery, witnessed some loud crazy-assed shouting match between someone in a big double-wide truck and a lady who got so pissed off she ran to get something (hopefully a crowbar and not a gun) out of the trunk of her car to attack the truck or the driver of the truck and then got a sales pitch from a glassy eyed panhandler who seemed to be filled with helium - it pays to go outside your home.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I caught an Artichoke Haircut reading and heard some great new writers. One of them was Lily Herman and this poem by her makes me all riled up jealous. I love it and I hope you agree.

A thousand or a hundred thousand birds

for Bob Dylan and Bob Snyderman, but mostly Aradia

What we talked of first
was a marriage. The same year
your mattress disappeared
each time you couldn't sleep,
and you romanced a bag
of wet leaves in the name
of your many plays, we heard
about Isis

how she snuck to the woods
to be a bride, and your cousin
snuck to the woods to be
a widow, and upstate
your niece was born before
I even knew you
had a brother

In an oblong park circling
Manhattan, we peered out
through the baubled walls
and saw the army
of tunnels we'd been sent to check
for bombs, or orphans, or more
tunnels, I kissed
you like a monk who's forgotten
his prayers and goes on wordless
chanting in the dreary interim
till death, all the scarlet
flowers shut like windows
against pilgrims who look
for a room to set down
their sleeplessness

Before anyone could argue
we'd been on a date, we got
married to avoid their questions
On our wedding day my brother
told you I walk like I keep
all old countries low
in my hips, and not to expect
a little aisle to change that
When you went away for a turquoise
rope, we exchanged
feathers in the mail to remind
each other how few promises
we'd actually made, that it might
stay possible to keep the one

I wore your father's suit
that I'd asked so many questions about
and your niece was reborn to celebrate
and one of my men had his granddaughter
so that she could take our name, and
you wore me to the reception so you wouldn't
feel overdressed
around us
the heat amassed into fat jewels
with teeth, or fragments
of the skies we were born under
that only come back to hug or cut
but when you've been born as long
as we have, inexhaustibly, you can't
invite one and not another

Later we learned to take our Decembers
when they came, and talked of nothing
but the blankness where our middle names
and the Soviet Union used to be
Or sometimes we'd pause to drink
a little, and wonder aloud
why our parents had dragged
us off the ancient star-belt
for this short hospital stay, swore
we'd never make more people
if we didn't have a much better reason

And I looked at you and you
saw me for the second
we eclipsed and it became May
and we greeted our better reason

with no calendar counting down
with no little wives sweeping
under our feet we thought it ridiculous
said Any room is a delivery room
if it's better than the room
you were in last and in the last
none of us had sons so I guess
we're making progress

Neither of us kissed anybody
for years least of all
each other, and any time
someone asked we said
This is being redeemed, or said
we were brother and sister
or cried in each other's arms
like the time we were starving

And if your niece saw us then
she instantly became my mother and growled
at us for coming near each other
like we might not feed each other
like she didn't trust our intentions
and a hundred birds took off
for their chosen planets around us

--Lily Herman


Lily Herman lives in Baltimore. A collection of her poems called Better than some, not as good as some others, was released by Furniture Press Books in 2011. She runs a reading series called “ILLITERATI” out of the Pent House Gallery in the Copy Cat building, and co-writes a blog of food stories called "What I Ate Where" with her cohort Adrian Shirk. She lives with seven dreamy humans and one cat, who, darling though he is, manages to stay almost entirely out of her poems.

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