Back to Issue Forty-Five

Thing with Feathers



Celibacy: the name I call myself
right as the birds wake:

no: what birds:

no birds but now I open
the blinds: flies, large and silent:

I’m so dulled, enfolded

in the dread of being real
only to myself:

the flies on the window won’t move:

mom on speaker phone:

one of the chickens got the taste
for its own eggs:

whose voice but mine

as I smash the flies
with a hardback, one by one:

poor bird, poor bird:

they splay open,
yellow inside:

the book is by Zitkála-Šá:

just hit me, I said once to a man
then struck my own cheek hard:

felt myself warp and shrink:

before this peculiar experience I have no distinct memory
of having recognized any vital bond between myself and my own shadow,

wrote Zitkála-Šá:

o doubled form that no longer owns me:

folding into a paper towel
the remains of these:

poor birds: what birds:

surely at some point my mind will cease
reviving indignities:

when the TSA agent slipped
her fingers inside my waistband:

moved slowly over
my hip bones, the small
of my back, my stomach:

resting for a moment
below my belly button:

my gaze turned out
and back onto my body:

despite myself, turned on:





The first time the forest burns, I brush ash from the windshield, cover my nose with my sleeve ➔

My mother stabs herself, sewing a cow print dress with buttons that spell MOO

In a class called Myth & Metaphor, my teacher points to a projection of a brain ➔

When you see someone in pain, this part lights up

No way to breathe without breathing it in ➔

In the beginning we have neither myth nor metaphor, nor the notions of myth and metaphor,
nor the brains from which such notions spring ➔

The shadow of an arm falls across that mottled organ, set alone in space ➔

MOO ➔ Open lowing, calf calling ➔

Contented cows stay silent ➔ Dead ones too ➔

For her I button to my neck, for her I twirl ➔

Years later, I see new shoots among charred stumps ➔ In the distance a cloud, another fire sweeping ➔

I roll the windows up ➔

In my brain a word clicks shut ➔ MOON, whose gaze pulls every bead of blood closer ➔

Somehow we survive that too ➔





my mother ate the worst parts of the meat ➔ her father went to the Mission School ➔ she never
heard him say I love you not once ➔ my mother hit me ➔is that him in the photo with the other
children hair cropped close ➔ she never saw him dance ➔ my mother picked at the fatty parts ➔
she hit me again ➔ I heaved into her shirt ➔ her father told me once he had to eat the horses or not
at all à she hit me then held my head in her arms ➔ her father wouldn’t dance at the powwow ➔
he unhooked his arm from mine and turned away ➔ the drummers kept singing the Victory Song ➔
long slabs of fat left on her plate ➔ she held my head gently ➔





I do not
believe in
poetry as
solace or
I do not
believe in
my poetry
as solace
for now


solace (English) ➔ “comfort,
consolation” ➔ solaz (old
French) ➔ “pleasure, enjoyment” ➔
solacium (Latin) ➔ “soothing,
assuaging” ➔ selh- (Proto-
Indo-European) ➔ “to reconcile”


cannot be
with then
that seeps
blood down
the creases
of a finger
the joints
to curl to
pull away





Now I

open the cedar hope chest
jump at the slam of a door
turn the dog onto his back
miss a planetary conjunction
lift my niece onto my lap


Then I

let her pull my hair hard
stare into monotone fog
softly scratch his belly
unfold yards of gingham
close my eyes to steady





shhhh, I say, stroking the air around her head ➔ she taught me to scrub cast iron ➔ my inherited need for it, scalding ➔ nuns taught him to read, taught his brother to fiddle ➔ her father calls me Shorty, calls me Slim ➔ it is a psychic and consequently physical truth ➔ my mother raised me with predestination ➔ she liked the water hot, her knuckles red ➔ her post-post-historical consolation ➔ bits of charred meat rising through gray suds ➔ particles kept apart, even touching ➔ my niece outgrew the buffalo hide moccasins ➔ our mothers saved baby hair in envelopes ➔ to remove rust with lemons and salt ➔ her son had a daughter ➔ her face composed of these events and stories about à murky dissolution ➔ emptying the dishwasher, I place a bowl ➔

within a bowl ➔

within a bowl ➔





…And so they took him up to Fort Yates and they buried him out there…out there close to where Esther lived…just…the cemetery was there…uh… [ this is Sitting Bull? Sitting Bull died at ] …yes… Sitting Bull… [ Sitting Bull died at Wounded Knee ] [ but they brought him up to Fort Yates Mom ] [ oh ok after he died at Wounded Knee ] …yeah…it was a uh…um…at any rate…so there was…the grave was there and it had rocks around the grave…huh…and it was there and…it got so there was a…another one beside it that was marked the same way…I don’t…so uh…what uh…they… any rate…uh Mobridge is forty miles away but they wanted to use for…draw huh…. [ they built a monument right ] …right built a momument and…so…they thought…so…they came in the middle of the night and dug his grave…and took him down and buried him outside of…outside of Mobridge and…but…the kids had changed the rocks and I think he’s still buried there…but any rate…they moved the grave of somebody and put him…and they celebrate…that’s part of their celebration each year…





she held my head in her arms ➔
she held my head against her chest ➔
she held my head like a ripe melon ➔
she held my head as joints shook ➔
she held my head as the jawbone rattled ➔
she held my head as within sockets eyes rolled ➔
she held my head ➔ she let me go ➔





I stoop in the grass, bagging dog shit ➔

Above my head, a gold medallion tree ➔

The dog pulls the leash, averts his eyes ➔

I ask my mother to record her father ➔

In the video, he breathes in, coughs out ➔

Memory, like weather, shows up each day ➔

Seed pods transluce, filled with clusters ➔

In the video, he gives a new ending ➔

He’s certain the story he told is the way it is

I’ve spent too much time quiet ➔

I’ve spent too much time talking ➔

I am learning to save every part of this animal

Erin Marie Lynch is the author of Removal Acts, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in October 2023. Her writing appears in New England Review, Gulf Coast, DIAGRAM, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She has been the recipient of awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, and the Hugo House. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California, where she serves as the managing editor of Ricochet Editions.

Next (Paola Bruni) >

< Previous (David Baker)