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.
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.
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,
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.
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.