The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


David B. Prather



The Birdman of Alcatraz must have been a saint. A saint for criminals, the unredeemable, failed
            romantics, prisoners and bondage and violent crimes. An urban legend

who confiscated crumbs and swept them into a single pocket, then walked the detention yard,
            a spectacle with sparrows and wrens and finches gathered

on his shoulders and arms, on the top of his head. On him, a murderer so violent he was made
            to live the ascetic life, a cot in the infirmary where he did time

making knives and writing child pornography. But there was also the way he cast bread
            through his window and lured birds into his cage, one airy creature always

nested in his shirt. Next to his skin. So he could feel freedom beating in the tiny avian heart,
            faster than his own, quick and elusive, except there

in feathers and song. If nothing else, these are grounds for canonization. After all, the Irish
            have Saint Kevin, man of the blackbird,

who lived slowly, one hundred twenty years. A man who fed his followers salmon, shredded
            and arrowed, brought to him by an untamed otter.

The influence was found in his hand, the sanctuary lines where a blackbird laid her egg, and he
            held it ‘til it hatched. The mourning dove hitches its breath,

singing the whole thing impossible. But this is one of those extraordinary feats, an action, a
            story dispersed by belief.

That a priest could atrophy his outstretched arm like the branch of a tree, which means he
            didn’t eat or sleep or piss or shit.

That he didn’t just set the egg aside, in the corner, on the ledge, the window through which his
            arm protruded. That this is the one great moment of his life. Yes, the single moment,

perhaps no more than a week. This is enough to be historical. A foolish gesture, in retrospect,
            but more than anyone could have foreseen. And any word to describe it is hollow

as the bones of flight. The wing is its own sort of hand, once opened, that propels the body
            upward, until the air is filled with birds, a cyclone, chasing summer out of town.

The flesh folds toward itself, smaller and smaller on the horizon. Migration. Travel. Because of
            this, we recognize sorrow, the caged man

who must watch the sky and sea, as though the edge and end of the world. From which all the
            birds will rise to choose a body like their own,

which astonishes every witness, though these are few. But they will agree that the birds flew
            into the man, and there was no difference.




DAVID B. PRATHER received his MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Colorado Review, Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, American Literary Review, Poet Lore, ONTHEBUS, and others. His work was also selected for one of Naomi Shihab Nye's anthologies, "what have you lost?" Currently, David spends his time as an actor and a director at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg in Parkersburg, WV.



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