by Heather Kirn
Crown, I said, or kite, and that was that.
Like flames encased in glass, the nouns dissolved.
But levitate had weight around it. Rapt,
I wrote it down. Then menacing jabbed dark
with dark and triumph made me win. I grinned,
heard the strained trill of an oriole
and knew it too was mine. As was the phone.
It sang an octave lower than the bird,
rang all day. Go away, I wrote
and dialogue was born. I gave the words
a mouth, designed a face, a body, legs
for him to choose the wrong direction—there
he went and there he fell. I clasped my hands.
He multiplied. Then, Yes? I took the call.
The voice said, First you killed the oriole.
You killed the old man who found it too.
You say you’re sitting down?, it asked. You killed
entire villages, then carved initials
into anything that bled. A eulogy?
A prayer? How could we say a word? I bowed
my head, left the pens and rode the car
to padded walls. I ate soup. Soup, I said
and slapped my wrists. Pill, I swallowed. The walls
are blank as pages. In my dreams, I write
the kiddy-books that label every noun.
I write door, bed, salamander, slug,
erase a letter only when I start
to feel an adjective, a verb. Nothing does.
By morning, all the work evaporates.
No word remains but one. Intent. When split,
it names a sleeping spot. If stripped on the sides
it calculates the digits on my hands.
But whole, it settles me to self. I meant
no harm. I found a shape and made a world,
then crawled inside. Where else was I to live?
Heather Kirn’s essays have been noted in The Best American Essays Series and published in The Florida Review, Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her poems appear most recently in Cincinnati Review and Shenandoah. She teaches writing at UC-Berkeley. The above poem originally appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal and is reprinted here by permission of the author.