Erika Jo Brown


The thing with laments is how

yellow they are, such soi dissant

nostalgia, not happy hues,

like fresh cut grass roiling

in waves towards the monument,

the monument of springtime insects—

katydid nymphs, wasps, and silverfish.

The monument of trapezoids, hot

sharp elbows, summering on subways.

G-d, I love this city, the scent of fresh

rain on sidewalks, like laundry,

civilians soaping sidewalks,

people laughing, beautiful feet

in beautiful sandals, until

everything is skin, skin, skin!

No, laments, not you, not here. 



Oh, Osiris.

Tasked to write a love poem for the rival cult,

I says to myself, shut your trap.



There’s a plum in my secret drawer;

it’s just for you. 



In the museum, you stroll past herringbone tapestries

and resist dyes from Bali and Mali.

I’m alone in my peninsula.



Coconut on your breath,

feather on your slender thigh—

these are the stuff anointments are made of.



I observe an I-thou on the horizon.

Maybe I’m not a good person.



Really, I am barely boiling barley,

dreaming of etymologies, again.



I’d come to you with a tapering candle

in my eye, alright, a flute of champagne,

but we are in public. 


I say water, you say water back

ridiculously. A field of dreaming


is nothing without a quaff of agua.

That’s why I prefer a forest


with coverage, natural cisterns, foliage

sisterly. Or a jungle, full of miraculous


cures and berries and barks. A rain

droplet barks softly, softly, edging


over rivulets, riveting us. The solitary

bark of a seal, a seal of trust, a sacred


trust for privacy, please. And why

this relentless pacing? Each word


umbrellas other meanings, as droplets

ricochet off fabric, water-resistant.


You say, meaning. I say, pass the popcorn.

My clockwork love of snacks may


be thyroidal, may not be worth looking into.

Then this dream of red, this dream of


a spectrum, the size and style of a mantis

shrimp, whose eyes have evolved through


the miracle of water—a field of dreaming.


However you construe, I can stew,

food being inseparable from ideas.

There is a cable between your gut

and your brain, electric, hence joy,

hence nervousness, hence you take

your cardigan off, hence you put

your cardigan back on. I’m meant

to be talking about something

essential. I’m meant to, I don’t

know, have an intended. We intend

to do a lot of things. We cook

colorful palettes with bright flavors,

with jus, with shitakes. Sometimes,

misunderstandings just happen.

However you construe, let’s construct.

I think we can plate this thing anew. 


American oystercatcher, American coot,

American widgeon, American woodcock—

the indigo bunting just blows all of those

away. Don’t call me a perching bird, says

the perching bird, so help me G-d. Average

in every way, grows 6 inches tail to tip,

this swift passerine is superfucking blue

in a done, dun world. How can anyone

bring children into this dun, done world?

It’s as easy as two plus two. One indigo

bunting and another indigo bunting think

fleetingly of the tanager, of the warblers

returning late night to their nests, drunk

with song. Indigo bunting, bird of prayer,

please stay in your breeding coloration 

illustrated n the field guide of American

fowl, or come take refuge with me. 


Even Stevens 


Birds are organic matter. Birds matter,

says the guy in the t-shirt. Birds are

the material of many poems. Birds

are made of elements, so too, my

moonstone. On the bird guide, a man

has inscripted a note to his daughter.

Cardinals, of course, stick out.



Cardinals are homilies to red. Iridescence

is like, not even a suitable description

for your wingtip. All the anxiety

of the chase, locked up in your eye.



An escalope of cardinal, served with

frangipani, tiny bones, tiny feathery

bones, and good-enough meat.



Important to people today are cardinals.

Rhetoric is also of cardinal importance.

In the schoolroom, children come and go,

forgetting all about cardinals, vaguely

aware of syntax.



From gills to gilt, the cardinal flies

through the evolution narrative.

The lexigrapher nods,

the archaeologist looks stricken.



Let’s not bring money into this.

The cardinal builds its nest, mates,

you know, lays so many eggs per year.



Don’t, with your bromides. The cardinal

testifies, thou shallt, thou shallt, thou shallt

inspect a pair of loafers.



A flea lands on its neck. The cardinal is glad

for the company. She flinches, then shrugs,

then flourishes.



Watch the birdie. The birdies goes poop.

The birdie is invisible in the stand of trees,

where the birdie stands and sneezes.



The cardinal is watching. The bird, too,

is watching what I’m watching.

            Damnable cardinal.



Cardinal, your whys and hows. I feel

so much lower than you, so rooted.

This bestiary is for you.




Before he closes his eyes for the last time,

the cardinal knows no moment is more

or less important than right now.


ERIKA JO BROWN is from New York. She graduated from Cornell University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Capote Fellow in Poetry. Brown is currently a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. Her debut collection, "I'm Your Huckleberry," was released by Brooklyn Arts Press in 2014.