Back to Issue Thirty-Eight

Praise is a Dark Bird



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



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?



Laura Van Prooyen is author of three collections of poetry: Frances of the Wider Field (Lily Poetry Review Books), Our House Was on Fire (Ashland Poetry Press), nominated by Philip Levine and winner of the McGovern Prize, and Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press). She is also co-author with Gretchen Bernabei of Text Structures from Poetry, a book of writing lessons for educators of grades 4-12 (Corwin Literacy). Van Prooyen is the Managing Editor for The Cortland Review, she teaches in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program at Miami University and is the founder of Next Page Press. She lives in San Antonio, TX. To learn more, visit

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