Praise is a Dark Bird
BY LAURA VAN PROOYEN
The spirit says, you are nothing,
because you haven’t praised anything in months.
You walk down to the river and study light,
shadows, the bald cypress, and in it
a dark bird you can’t name. But you know
vulture and the group gathered
on and around cement picnic tables
is called a committee. On the ground feeding, a wake,
a kettle if they were in the air circling—you praise
the vulture that cleans the earth of the dead.
You begin to feel unafraid
and think mornings might be worth
getting up for. You think you could love
again, if only you felt the buzz
of the beginning sitting across the table
from you, ordering a coke, wanting nothing
in return. No one could have told you
marriage was so long. You remember
your father filling his dented Thermos
before dawn. Your mother
browning onions with ground beef
in the electric frying pan. Once
they thought you were asleep when you heard
your mother say, I don’t know what to do
with her. She’s been so awful. And of all
the people in the world
you ever wanted to hurt, it was not her.
You wished harm on the boys
who stole your cat, who shoved him
in a pillowcase and threw him into traffic. Boys
now living somewhere as men, and you think
something must have happened
to make them do that. Like the girl
whose mother used to lock her out
of the house, and you’d see her banging
on the front door to be let in. A turtle
sits on a rock in the river, taking in
warmth of growing light. And you think
this is about beauty now. About
the earth tilting like a memory
of a conversation deep into the night
when the moon shone on a maple and you
shivering in a Midwestern autumn.
You praised so much and easily then.
Author’s note: The first two lines of “Praise is a Dark Bird” were borrowed from Larry Levis’s poem “The Spirit Says, You are Nothing:”
Blue Light at Night
BY LAURA VAN PROOYEN
I sleep so you will live. You
have answered the phone again. I lean
into the sink looking at the neighbor’s house,
brown siding shining in afternoon sun.
I went to a funeral for Jenny’s son,
whose slow cancer sprung from agent orange.
That was when you were alive.
That was when I sliced a garden tomato
fat with seeds. Does the sandwich I made for you
still exist? The dull knife swiped with mayo
sits on the counter. For a minute
I believed you might chew again. I wish
I would have taken you to Red Lobster
that time you asked. What’s left now
but your teeth? I sleep but don’t tell you
about the disasters since your body
draped over your keyboard, ashtray beside you,
answering machine blinking with my voice.
We send messages with our thumbs now.
There are still popsicles here but the heat
grows worse, melting even mailboxes.
We may as well be on Mars. Do you feel
the change of the weather without bones?