Penelope and the Bird Man

by Laurie Byro and Ivan Waters
Wild Poetry Forum
First Place, August 2004
Judged by C.J. Sage


And it is this battle of the giants
that our nurse-maids try to appease
with their lullaby about Heaven
–Freud

i

Afterwards, unsettled, I travel
for days. The moon’s bone, thin and curved,
points to a new paradise. I sweep the forest
floor, cast fishing nets into the pines
above our bed of needles.

I fill the forest with favourite things:
marmots and chattering bats. Of course,
I will add turtles and rabbits. We read to each other
by the glow of wolves’ eyes, a string
of starfish, varnished fireflies.

The earth hardens beneath our backs.
I lay this bed among lady slippers and ferns.
I make him discard everything but his Argyles, loop
his pocket watch over the twig above. Bedtime,
we thrust and sing. The watch swings
back and forth, dropping minutes.

In the sleep of trees owls devise
a plan to furnish him with wings. Each morning
he sifts piles of dead birds. He doesn’t fear death,
but nor do jackdaws, I’m told. Some birds
flirt with suicide, fling themselves at oak or ash:
titmouse, nightjar, bullfinch, crow.

My lover promises when his work is done
he will return to me. I will knit Argyles and wait.
Birds have given up breath for him. Among their feathers
faith now thickens, and I rinse away
their sticky blood.

ii

It’s easy to see that his purpose is love.
He unstrings the beads of time in the sun.

It’s easy to see that his purpose is death.
He sings to an implacable fire.

His mother was a lapwing, his father
part kite, part nightingale. He carries her

cries back to him, as if they were coins
to unspend time, to unpawn summer.

iii

Dear Icarus,

I envy you the bite of heaven
as I lie cradled in the earth. I saw
deer today. I glimpsed a falling
star and wanted to show it
to you. I will be faithful. I am a firefly
captured in your hands, and the forest
floor is carpeted with the dead.
The stars hang from cracks in the ceiling.
How can I be so cold in the summer?

Dear Skylark,

I saw a snake today, a brown
striped viper. I found a broken shell, and blue
was the blue of the sky. And periwinkles
were my lover’s eyes, and you are free.
And I have had to let you go.
And I have let you go.

Dear Oedipus,

There was a spider
in the lighthouse, a dry web
on my face. And you have gone
to steal your father’s eyes,
to put the moon in a wagon, the planets
on the backseat of your old Fuego. She waited
for you in Rapallo, she is waiting
in Dunbarton. We are all
waiting to see you drown.

Memory spirals
up the gallows hill.

Dear Peregrine, don’t fall.

iv

At night the earth shrivelled and you whispered
stories in my ear. They were not fairy tales.

If I had been truly hungry for you, if jealousy
had been a chain I’d fastened around your neck,

then I’d have coveted every hour you spent without me.
You recounted the story of a bird who started as a boy.

He set off to bring back his masterpiece.
You asked me to accept this. You wanted me to lie

under a juniper tree and wait for your return.
I am sorry you had no Ariel to carry you

home in her arms. I flinch to remember the magic
your father fed you. I was your lover, your mother,

your sister, your whore: the wine you were looking for
was locked in my pantry. I gave you as consolation

two strangers telling stories among gossiping trees,
together forging an epitaph, their happy ending.

v

on the griddle of the sun
our dreams melting like butter
and when you leave me
to sleep my eyelids will flutter.



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