The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Arthur Russell

Sharyn

 

She owned the midday moon above the rock ledge,
steamship smokestack stuck in her lips,
diagonal-zip black leather jacket
open like the chest of a defiant corpse.

She strode
the asphalt path past my window,
long, Colossus-harbor crossers,
owning the sky, the rock ledge, the pale disc moon,
the tough-girl flap of her black leather jacket,

and didn’t care -- despite the deed to the day
that she carried in her sneer --
for any of it, or the clasp
that held dominion glinting in her hair.

All I ever wanted was to make a breeze
like hers when I walked by.

 

 

Arthur Russell

Easter Sunday Morning

 

A pigeon pursued by a shadow
shot the gap between buildings like a fighter plane
from the early sun toward my balcony.
Its skull rang the double pane
with a metal clang, and it fell
to the concrete floor, its grey chest heaving.

Specks of head feather made a circular mark
on the glass. I slid the heavy door aside.

The noise that fills our city courtyards
poured into my home like foam peanuts
in a shipping box. I went outside
in my pajama pants and knelt between
the pigeon and my failed avocado,
whose chopstick crutch was stouter than the stem
I’d twist tied to it; and the bird I feared,
as a city boy, to touch, whose death
I feared to share – compassion caught like a foot
in the fork of a tree – lay breathing slowly.

It had a short, yellow beak with dark
striations like an old piano key,
and, at its base, instead of pince nez glasses,
waxy bulbs of whitish nostril rested.
The tiny head where it had punched the glass
swelled like the knot on a Sikh boy’s turban.

Its well-black eye was glazing toward milk.

On the next-roof-over parapet, nonchalant
and motionless, a pyramid of patience,
I saw the shadowed peregrine waiting
for the pigeon it had chased to panicked death
to die. And I, with eyes made mother-hard,
stood and thrust my chin out at the falcon,
which turned its head to show me how its dark beak curved.

I reached back for the beach chair then, too intent
to turn away and set it like a tent
above the dying bird, and went inside,
and closed the sliding door behind me,
cutting off the noise.

The white quilt that enveloped my young wife
shown in the dark like the snow on the lawn
of our current home when I go outside
in the early dark to shovel. I sat
on the edge of the bed. I touched her hairline.
Our love, then, had a jigsaw fitting calm.

I told her I had looked up from my coffee,
seen the pigeon come, more bomb than bird,
and crash into the billboard of itself
that was our window,
and how I felt my heart at impact
shrivel like a nut sack in cold water
when the poor thing fell and lay there lifeless,
but for its twitching, tangled, scaly feet.

But when we reached the living room,
even before I slid the door aside,
I saw beneath the folding chair, the pigeon
where I’d left it wasn’t there, and the dead
tree stem lashed to the chopstick, jutted
from its hilltop in the chipped clay pot;
and outside, in the noise and brick-walled courtyard,
neither on the parapet, nor anywhere,
the falcon with its terrible intent.

Nothing of the pigeon remained on the balcony
except the ring its head left on the door.

We stood that way forever; even now
we stand there in our sleep clothes, I, who saw it,
and she, who only heard of it from me.

 

 

 

ARTHUR RUSSELL received fellowships to Syracuse University and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. His “Whales Off Manhattan Beach Breaching In Winter” won 2015 Poem of the Year at Brooklyn Poets, Honorable Mention in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize for 2016, and was anthologized in Bettering American Poetry, Brooklyn Poets Anthology and Paterson Literary Review. His chapbook Unbent Trumpet was a finalist in the 2017 Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Poetry competition.

 

 

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