Scott Owens is the author of The Fractured World (Main Street Rag, 2008), Deceptively Like a Sound (Dead Mule, 2008), The Moon His Only Companion (CPR, 1994), The Persistence of Faith (Sandstone, 1993), and the upcoming Book of Days (Dead Mule, 2009). He is co-editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, coordinator of the Poetry Hickory reading series, and 2008 Visiting Writer at
13 Ways of Birds
“Madeline, Madeline, don’t look at me that way
with peacocks flying out of your eyes.”
Purple finches pluck white
seeds of dandelion. Cardinals
clear cups of tulip trees.
You watch the nidification of wrens,
the careful placement of each leaf,
each lost piece of string.
In apple trees you see
sparrow’s mouths full of petals,
waxwings falling like leaves.
You’ve made your yard a nesting ground.
Last year there were 16 purple finches,
2 cardinals, 4 wrens, a starling
with a white stripe on its tail.
Counter-colored figures of birds
fill your waking: sparrows and finches,
juncos and doves, nuthatch and thrasher.
Doves fly war-like creases
across a white sky. Blue jays
stand winking their facetious collars.
You’ve fallen in love with the rufous sides
of towhees, the coal eyes of titmice,
meadowlarks’ perfect posture.
Catbird comes singing to your window,
his greater repertoire polished smooth.
You speak back in your own several tongues.
You remember the wood thrush’s wooden
music, the magic flute that says
the woods are nothing but leaves singing.
You remember blackbirds in pecan trees,
in church yards, rising and falling
like gusts of wind, like hands,
like leaves returning to the sky.
You love to hear the night alive
with mockingbirds’ singing, with bats’ wings,
with whippoorwills calling you out
into darkness you thought you’d never find,
their dead-leaf bodies seen
only in the transformation of names.
The old man of the sky turns
his swivel head, asks the names
of those still awake, his enormous
eyes taking in everything.
Hawk soars across the cloud
of your hand. Hummingbird laps the words
away. Red tail, red throat
shine your eyes wide again.
To Resist Fading
from Walker Evans’ photograph “Bud Field and His Family”
Who can keep them from fading
into walls, floors, their bare feet,
bare shoulders as unwashed
as where they move, their clothes
older than their bodies, worn
like skins that can’t be changed.
Who can keep them from disappearing
beneath the rooves falling in,
the walls leaning in at odd angles.
The man’s arms are all but given out,
given up, his hands too big
to handle the youngest sleeping heavy
in his mother’s lap, her face
hard and masculine, her legs,
her shoulders bent beneath the load
of children, her arms as big
as his and nearly as strong.
Who can keep them from the dust
gathering in corners, in cracks
between the wood, from darkness
growing in doorways, creeping
up every road they know.
The old one is worn out
from too much labor, too little care,
too long a life like hers.
The years crawl through her fingers
wringing in pain, through her feet
swelling from constant standing.
The young one doesn’t know any better,
thinks this is the only way,
will grow up hungry and happy,
his belly constantly sore.
There is only this one,
with eyes like caverns, a face
round as a question, legs
already scraped and scratched
but standing like none of the others,
a pillar between the walls,
between the doors and windows,
holding all that falls, apart.
There is only this one
I need to believe will make it.