p
o
e
m
s

I am reborn as an animal
that breaks into dental clinics
long after sundown to suck laughing gas
from its dark mask.
               I am reborn
as an animal that keeps watch
on the liquor store until the lights
flick off, or later.
               The animal that sings
its ballads to the cattails,
which is the same animal whose hands close
over the shape of baby birds
in low nests.
               This is an animal
that carries a gold-rimmed teacup
and kisses the ravenous night
with all its teeth before sinking
them into the leg
of its benefactor.
               Among the cemetery
with its lonesome chill, the animal
made of shadow has touched
the breast of a woman who laid down
with the dead.
               This animal
picks names from the phonebook
and sleeps very lightly
beneath their window or wakes late
for a cigarette, and its smoke drifts
into their dreams.
               Once there was
an animal just like this who was left,
newly born, in a box on the steps of a temple
in an old country, and the priest
blessed it in a bath of milk
and made it jump
through the fire.
               The animal
came to glitter like pyrite.
The animal shivered
like gold flecking the stones
of a chilly river.
               The animal
was caused by a minor devil
to stumble, and for that it was cast off
like the disheveled skin
of a spirit.
               In slumber, the animal
set out for its fortune, and in slumber
came to a farm where animals
were slaughtered. Needing
food, he asked for a job.
               To pull
a blade through the feathers
of an animal, to pour out
its blood as if from the mouth
of a bottle and blanch it,
and put handfuls of its feathers into a bag
coarsely like paper money
of no remaining value, then cut open
its small chest where the organs
glisten like jewels in their shawl
of blood.
               The animal may go on
doing this forever. It may have to.
               The animal is accustomed
to count discreetly, to curry
small favor, to stop for its bottle
hidden in an abandoned bunker
somewhere, and to drink it there, in peace,
if it can.
               The animal’s soul
is contained in a separate vessel.

 

Miriam Bird Greenberg is the author of In the Volcano's Mouth.

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Further Reading

 October 16

Some seventy-two years from the last American execution for desertion, the firing squad is a tough-guy pantomime for hacks and hams.

 October 11

The clowns are not only fundamental to our social institutions; they're literally in charge of them.