Back to Issue Forty-Three

The Parable of the Magpie in the Trap


A certain magpie was caught in a wire-mesh trap.

And the trap was small, and the magpie could not fly, neither could it stretch out its black wings.

And the trap held no food nor did it hold water, and the magpie was hungry and thirsty in the shadowless sun.

And then the hunter came, and the magpie said Hunter, you should release me from this trap, for I am no food for you, and my meat is stringy and foul in the mouth.

But the hunter put food and water for the magpie in the trap, then the hunter went away.

And then the cold rains came and the wind, and the magpie huddled in the trap, and the magpie could not dry its feathers, nor was there any dry place for the magpie to rest its feet.

And the hunter returned, and the magpie said Hunter, you should release me from this trap, for you cannot sell my feathers, for my black feathers are not beautiful, and neither are they proof against the wind and rain.

But the hunter placed a stick in the trap as a perch for the magpie, and placed a roof on the trap to shelter the magpie, and then the hunter went away.

And the trap was on the ground, and the coming night was near, and the predators began to wake in the shadows of the woods, and therefore the magpie was afraid.

And the hunter returned, and the magpie said, Hunter you should release me from this trap, for I am no threat to you, nor do I prey upon your beasts, nor do I feed upon your gardens or your crops.

But the hunter placed a larger trap around the smaller trap, and turned to go away.

And the magpie cried Hunter, you must release me from this trap, for no animal preys on me, so therefore I am not bait for any quarry you might wish to trap and kill.

Now for the first time the hunter spoke, and said, Magpie, others will not come for you to eat you; others will come for you to attack you, and to drive you from their lands;

For know now, Magpie, that you are not bait because you are wanted, but you are bait because you are hated, and it is because you are hated that therefore you are valuable to me.

And the magpie cried and said, Hunter what quarry is it that you so wish to trap and kill?

And the hunter said, Magpies, and then the hunter went away.


Study of Two Figures (Echo/Narcissus)


after Carl Phillips

To “force a flower” sounds more violent
than the process turns out to be: more a sequence
of planned deprivations, fashioning a little well
of want –

any “force,” such as it is, inheres
in this excess of intentionality, the way one
might set a table, or bait a trap. It’s an American
tendency to treat such

deliberateness, such
care, as itself proof of guilt – premeditation
as what tips the scales from mere mismisfortune
into crime.

Meanwhile the flower wakes,
as if alone, knowing no difference between
a natural or built environment, knowing only
its own desire, but not

that there should be
something other than itself to desire: the water
it can dimly sense but never touch, on pain
of rot; the sun

a theorized absence it mistakes
for purpose or for self, as if purpose and self
could even be differentiated at this early stage.
For the flower is childish,

eternally so, lacking
roots, lacking gratitude, its whole being one ever-
more pallid, evermore drawn-out throat,
as if trying to climb out of

its own earthliness
through its single-minded focus on what
it wants. “I want / want I” – the mirror
that makes two

out of one, the water
you maintain at a level just out of reach,
assiduously, because to gratify its desire
would be to spoil

the innocence that is
the point of all your carefully calibrated
effort, the innocence you think beautiful
in its centripetal

self-regard, your
cultivation of an unslaked want that
reflects your own mirror-image wanting,
this denial that will end

for only one
of you, in an outburst the color
of jealousy; star-shaped like triumph
or like the urge to hurt.


Monica Youn is the author of FROM FROM, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in March 2023. Her previous books are BLACKACRE, IGNATZ, and BARTER. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Levinson Prize, and the William Carlos Williams Prize and has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kingsley Tufts Award. The daughter of Korean immigrants and a former constitutional lawyer, she is an Associate Professor of English at UC Irvine.

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