Back to Issue Forty-One

from Conference of the Birds


…the fire you dwell in will bloom into a garden.
—Farid ud-Din Attar, Mantik’ut Tayr, c. 1100


Outside the red wings of the arson, birds
were entering and exiting themselves.

In Attar’s country we attended their movement
as a kind of speech.
In our country—who can say?

Only, from the matchbox-red mince
of the red house in the red country and its matchbox-
red throat, lifting not the house

but the outline
of the house, that birds turn a slow circle.
Dark letter in dark air.

The letter changes as you fix your mouth to speak it.
The birds circle.
The house burns.
You keep looking for the words.


Police were burning
sirens on the hill. As they watched
their country steep the house in arson,
you lay sleeping, and, waking, counted
thirty wings inside the smoke.


Only birds had watched you, singing
of remembrance.
So your speech grew feathers and remembered.


Forgetting you,
the country called you magpie,
plucking at the carrion of language,
puppeting the skin of another—
Magpie who talks in pieces,
who would spill—they said—himself
like naphtha in the cipher
of a burning house—
what could he know of singing?

You rubbed soot into your chest,
recalling crow, then smoke, then flee, then flight.


Whether, like moths, the birds had migrated
to the fire, or had grown out from it—who can say?

Only, west-easterly, between
not countries but the names
of countries, that they moved.


Hiding himself among them, the magpie
had sought not the fire, but the bird living in the center of the fire,
who, like Sankofa, says death is revision, and revision
is just looking again.


The magpie here called you had been called also:

Tiresias, whose sex crumbled
like ashes in the white-hot palm of god;

Tiresias, eyes snuffed by the mirrored torso
of the goddess;

Tiresias, avispex, he-she who saw no color
but the birds, who singed their speech
into hir memory of the future;

Tiresias, he-she steeped in naphtha, in
the thick and terrible wetness of the fire.


Was ze then flushed out or was smoked out
Was ze made clean again or else made bare—

Magpie, You

who sang such clever things,
how can you say nothing?


Fifteen Words for F■■■■■:

fieldfare finch firethroat falcon feeding
refeeding fulminant ferrous—

in the sense of female—phases facie—in the sense of prima
famished—in the sense of absence—

figuration—in the sense of trans—aphasia in the sense of
Why didn’t you say anything

family—in the sense of service—familiar
in the sense of You should have known—famine

field fallow feckless—in the sense of boys will be

in the sense of tinder—factory, olfactory—
in the sense of burning flesh—


Outside the red wings of the arson, you
forget familiar speech.
The house—a matchstick hieroglyph.

A blackened mirror lies out in the yard and you look
down—your maternal line
widening with silence

looks out of it to meet you,
casts the daylight’s thirty colors back
against your face. Magpie,

many years ago from now,
you won’t wear strangers’ colors,
you won’t pluck at strangers’ tongues.


If the house had burned it was no fire to read you.
Soot clings under our fingers,
already buzzing with its own queer light.


LEYLA ÇOLPAN is the author of What Passes & What Passes Through (Ghost City Press 2020), a collaborative chapbook with multimedia artist Sasha Barile. Ze was an inaugural undergraduate Creative Arts Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, and ze will begin hir MA studies at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2022. Hir work received a 2019 Academy of American Poets Undergraduate Prize and the 2020 Gulf Coast Prize for Poetry, and it has appeared in Poet Lore, Columbia Journal, and Best New Poets. Ze tweets @LeylaColpan.

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