Flight of the Raven
He knew he must decide
between feather and flesh
the price of transformation
being nothing less
than full renunciation
of his tattered, old life.
To regain our innocence
we must surrender
our cherished degree
all intimate familiarity
with those wily
spirits of destruction.
In our defense against the howling
seductive entreaties of the night
we might clutch youth’s mascots
and all our love, fiercely,
against our trembling chest.
Wings are needed not only to fly,
but to keep our balance
Wisdom is becoming
innocent, once more
To innocence, all things are permitted…
We can still become who we were.
In another life, we flew together,
sheltered in the boughs
of ancient bristlecones, rich with seed.
Our voices rose, loud and raucous.
But that was almost beyond memory.
From the ground, I watch the flocks
assemble on the wires, the stunted eucalyptus.
They call to one another
in a tongue I no longer understand.
Seeker of bright things, there is only
one way back to harmony.
With you at my back, like a quiver,
I become a corvid angel, hunting nothing
but the sense of flight,
intimate with clouds and wind.
My human bones are clumsy,
far too heavy for this feat, yet I rise
unencumbered on borrowed wings,
adept in ways forgotten long ago.
The Forest of Heaven
I carry the raven up the hill with my sister
to the edge of The Forest of Heaven. I carry it
strapped to my back, to where I commit
the memory of flight to dream. I once crossed
the sky and saw the village where they still make
paper wings by hand. They still bake their
bread with blood and the little girls must
carry their knives ready to flay the giant hare.
My sister thinks the village is magic, but she
is still carrying the raven with me to the edge
of The Forest of Heaven, past the river where
the miller lives with his wives. If we don’t keep
moving, we are told we will end up as
one of them. We don’t bring water. We look for
springs along the way. We build a fire
only if we can start it with a fallen nest we’ve
found. The song we sing at the end of the day
asks the spirit of The Forest of Heaven for
guidance. It asks if we were not animals
yesterday, if we still linger in them today
when we must travel to the old brick cistern
built by gnomes and giants working together
for once. Their solidarity is rare, but it is
legend. My sister and I must be careful
not to let each other rest our ravens on
the hillock of the damned. From there
it is three days more until we reach
The Forest of Heaven. When we have
reached it, we will have done service
to our clan and we may begin our long
sad journey back to being human
where every day that we are alive
we must be fully reminded
of everything’s presence.
The Sun Will Not Burn You
Girl, when you hold the bird to your ear
what can she tell you? It will be years
before you learn the fables of feathers,
the lessons under wings.
Her ancestors are ghazals in your veins.
Each day pulses with their celebrations.
And their failures. Listen: This is birdsong
outside of expectation, and its requisite shame.
Hers is a call beyond narrative.
Her beak on your head scarf,
her lore against your cheek. This is an offering.
There is no altar. Do not kneel before it.
She puts the bird to her ear to listen
while the dust overcoats her overcoat
Here words sound more like heartbeats
the gushing blood and the terror of being held,
of wings pressed open involuntarily
What she hears is a conversation around loss,
that gray flurry of snowdust that covers
There is no service in this town so all she hears
is the slow stopping of her own heart
because that is the small bird
and you cannot see the hole in her chest,
vested as it is in a life worth getting lost for
and for each call a coin is cast.
and for each message the meaning turns
until what she hears is the hollow
echo of what was once meant.
Listening to the Sky
I am listening for the sky
in the unbeating breast of this beast,
this broken sky-piercer,
seeker of the dawn,
arrow of the long soft dark.
Pressing my flesh, to its flesh, to its bone.
Straining my ear
for the rumors of the moon,
the secrets of the stars.
Tell me, small wing beat,
tiny skyline blur, horizon scar,
what do the other sky things whisper
while I am asleep?
I feel the unmade bed
of its body across my face,
wings spread like comfort
in a mother's fingers.
My voice is cracked panic
as I entreat this missile
of jet and cracked riverbank
reaching into the clouds.
But it does not speak,
no sky remains in its lungs,
and I can feel the faultline of its back,
spine broken as a taproot.