King of Birds (ii)

My brother was four-years older, already on the edge of escape: anger and a bullet proof vest his only companions. When he was younger, he thought he was Geronimo and wore a tattered headdress (bought from some roadside souvenir stand) until the feathers fell off, one at a time. Perhaps it was only response but I became an outlaw, Jesse James, a bandanna bandit with heave metal cap guns slung around my waist. The threats of late-night, bare-chested raids were constant and I learned to sleep with my guns beneath my pillow. Even as I outgrew my outlaw days, my brother continued to wear war paint and hunt the beasts that grazed in his mind. The wreckage wrapped itself around our weary lives: we lived in increments, every day an inch, every inch a nail.

Growing up without my father, I often time imagined the places he might have disappeared to. My mother was of little help and I was left to compile clues from her short answers, her silences and her walks to the sea where she would collect shells.

-What happened to him?

She would absentmindedly stroke my hair.

-Some people aren’t meant to be here. It’s as if their very existence is an accident and so the wind corrects their course and takes them back to where they belong.

-Is he still alive?

My mother was draw her cigarette to her lips and smirked through the smoke, the closest thing to a smile she could ever commit to before softening into silence. It was a great disappearing act, which appeared to be our one family talent.

Left to my own devices I concluded that the sea was route he chose. I assumed he ventured forth across the vast ocean seeking some great treasure and that upon discovering it would return home, replete with a chest of shimmering shells, closed like tight fists that held vast riches inside them. I became enamored of books about the sea and the men who boldly drove their ships across it.

The summer of my twelfth year, my brother ran away, although, in truth he could never escape his madness. Who of us can? Some forms of madness are akin to desire, the kind that dangles from the sky
and strikes you like grief, leaving scars in the shape of teeth. My brother traveled by land, wandered through deserts and old Indian battlefields, I’m certain finding only the ghosts of the warriors who had once fought so bravely. Along some desolate stretch of interstate in Wyoming he was picked up by a truck driver and killed when the semi went off the road. It was all shattered glass and ash; only in the wispy smoke of the fire could anyone recognize him. In death there is no glory, just the grim squalor that
all futile gestures leave behind and the battlefield is just a burial ground for broken arrows + dreams. My father had left behind a shipwreck of fools and loss, sadness and shame.

One night, soon after that, my mother was developing photographs in her dark room when she saw my twin, the one she’d lost, emerge from the alkaline. She removed the paper, closed her darkroom, and wept for three days. All these intertwined tragedies were sewn through our family’s life with such thin thread. The spool always unwinds in our hands, yet we act as if it is happening to someone else even when the photographs reveal the terrifying truth.

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King of Birds (interlude)

He is the captain of shipwrecks, a brutal youth who
can’t read a map to save his life. He digs for buried
treasure in all the wrong places.

He sails through the staggering hills of the Pacific Ocean
believing that he’s climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and
refuses to set his anchor anywhere but the moon.

“These grim battles must be fought,” he says, “for the
gods of the forsaken, beneath whose mighty promise
our fate will be measured and weighed.”

He raises his tinfoil sword toward the sky, claims this
land for Spain and leads his men into bloody battle
for the love of Helen and her shimmering beauty.

In death there is no glory, just the grim squalor that
all futile gestures leave behind and the battlefield
is just a burial ground for broken arrows + dreams.

As the sun circles the sad blue sky he recognizes
that eventually he must leave the dock and put
away his newspaper sailor’s hat for good.

+ Depression has a way of unraveling even the
most finely crafted dreams and desires +

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King of Birds (intro)

My mother only took photographs of sadness. The Crown box camera clicked and fluttered; the wide-eyed shutter collapsed like a hesitant flower with withering petals. The camera looked like a hearse and the images were minor funerals; the death of each moment captured on film. The still photographs were like gravestones that visited only on holidays.

Most nights we sat together on the crumbling front steps of our unfortunate house. My mother smoked a cigarette, while I would stare at the orange ember fuse glow and then, watch for the barrage of dying comets that fell from her eyes like cold failed stars.

[Do stars have teeth?]

It’s all space and distance, light years apart, which only the rarest love can cover. Even I, who had walked on water, could barely cross the distance to reach her. By the time I arrived I’d be exhausted, buried from the burden of crossing; the weight of space and traveling on stars is a soulless experience meant only for gods and ghosts. Yet, my mother had carried me for so many miles just to arrive here and had even lost one of us on the way; my phantom twin acknowledged only in the space between our silences. She carried such strange burdens, which she never shared. She only looked at me with hopelessness and called me her savior. Little did she know that I had laid down my cross years ago and had grown wings instead. What my mother called madness I deemed mercy, the kind that flows between the banks of devotion and doubt.

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What Do Your Flowers Say Now?

I was on the edge of the mapped earth, where I rode
the waves of anguish and lash, bandied about the
suffering crush of the water’s cruel intent to drown.

The gulls mad dash, lurch and startle, made the suffering
full of feathers and flight, as if our deepest desires are
held by tenuous traps of wire and want.

How deep, dear Emily, do you suggest digging into
the ocean before breaking off in breaths of tears and
rankled reefs of isolation or idolatry?

You see, adoration has its place among the pricks
and pokes of thorns, but faith is fission of sea and
storm while lying in rags on rocks of rust.

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The Biography of Maria Callas

Her mother had episodes of grandiosity and forced Maria to wear expensive dresses that were too big so that she could not go outside and play with the other children. There was never a lemonade stand and rarely were there balloons.

She sang for her lost childhood. She mourned for the birds. After spending so many years walking down dark hallways she sought the light; even as fractured as the light is. How many costumes can one person wear in a lifetime without losing their identity?

[Wounded birds flew from nest to nest seeking comfort]

Maria Callas suffered from myopia, which is why she wore welder’s goggles while sunbathing. She wrapped her neck in towels of warm lemon water. She wrapped her dreams in rags.

From a young age she imagined what love might taste like. She eventually settled on orange. The first time she felt the sting of love prick her soft petals she was overwhelmed by such a sudden sadness of loss that she remained bedridden for three days. Even the birds stopped singing.

When she sang she could feel herself falling back into herself. Only her voice had wings.

Older now and love was an illusion that often visited her on holidays. Alone, ever as ever, she began to design her death. She plucked the tar from her feathers and buried the notes from her final performance in a box with a blue velvet lining. She stepped outside on the balcony of her apartment to feel the heat of the sun on her dying face and she cried beautifully, as only she could do. A butterfly landed on her cheek and drank her tears before it fluttered away.

[Death is a dream. Who cannot live with honor must die with honor]

“Butterfly!”

She curled among her sleeping things and fluttered away.

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Ruins (e-minor)

She sleeps with her weary ghosts
too tired to make them believe that
there is a better place for haunting,
a place beyond the immeasurable
sleepy self where dark dreams conspire
to pull them all beneath the surface
where life lingers alone…

…and what of these sad skulls that
lay like ruins among the dust of this
grand illusion named love—she calls
it one of sorrows great mysteries.

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The Prophet

TheProphetThe prophet is handing out poems to the dead
hoping to inspire the next great resurrection.
The dead are showing no interest and the poems
lie scattered in the graveyard like torn leaves.

He’s always been known for putting band aids
on broken arms and making lemonade from limes.
The Bible he reads from is full of blank pages and
he’s changed the names to protect the innocent.

As a last resort he built an altar to the art of sorrow
from the stones of his silent heart. Only crows attend
services anymore, putting his words in their beaks
and feeding them to their young.

The paradox of prayer is that it flies on only one wing.

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