Back to Issue Thirty-Two

Not a Bird



No more birds,
please, too easily
exceeding us—

their automatic song,
their just-out-of-reach
supernal softness, and of course

the whole Flight Thing.
Envious? Yes,
but we’ve never really liked

the people most like them—
kissless, jittering,
as if touch were voltage. No,

birds make us feel bad—
let’s sing, instead,
this beetle, who has rayed

directly through glass
to be a bad miracle
in the family room. Beetle

has the same root as
bite​, which mostly, it is said,
they don’t, though I have never

not swished one off my hand
too fast to find out
firsthand. As for this one,

I can hardly forbear
whacking it or sliding
under it

a sheet of paper
as it crosses what must seem
(waterless, harsh, beige)

a brutal, days-wide
Sahara of carpet. So painfully
deliberate, even though aimless,

is its crawling
that it feels like counting,
the one two…six

distinct limps, the legs
not quite part of the thing they carry,
like pallbearers, yet when a beetle

suddenly remembers it can fly—
loud, blundering, underpowered—
you see why it usually walks.

Such labor! As if just getting
from one place to another
were a somewhat mechanical compromise

with more complex yearnings,
as indeed it always is.
Just look at their life cycle—

egg to larva to pupa to adult,
which seems like a lot of magic tricks
no one ​ooh​s at, just

to arrive at the beetle. If only
I had kept track of friends
from high school, better to know

what becomes what. Though with us—
right?—it’s less metamorphosis
than reorganization, like the earth’s,

our difficult ranges
smoothed down or sucked under,
what once seemed deep and hot

thrust up to cool
and solidify—
the same old stuff, that is,

in a configuration a little easier
to live with. Like us,
beetles, of whatever size,

seem a little bulkier
than ideal—is it too sad
to say they lighten, by comparison,

my obsession with lightness?
Anyway temporarily,
since gazing at myself

even this long in their dark
mirror, I feel old heaviness
returning, a song

letting me down
exactly where I was,
only more so,

as if I were one of night’s black leaves
brought indoors
that had somehow kept its night-black glow.



Not an Artichoke



My vegetable love should grow
vaster than empires, and more slow
         Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

Fifty minutes minimum
to steam one, time we could use
to winnow the inbox, mow the lawn,

or sit and talk a little
too long and fall,
again, behind.

Seems we resolve
daily to get one started
first thing, or in 4:30’s

Unhappy Hour, but when
we don’t, and it ages
in the dank fridge, passed up

again and again for quicker dinners
let’s not blame
poor Time!

Those resolutions,
after all,
are to be less ourselves

so maybe studying
more deeply what we know already
we can’t get enough of—

the blunt zucchini,
the pliant eggplant, the already
ready tomato—really is

the way to go, though older
and fainter grows the memory
of stripping with our teeth

the softness from the undersides
of those leaves, an almost-nothing
tasting, really, like nothing

but artichoke. Even in tiers
of produce it’s far-fetched—
more hardware

than comestible—its very name,
so downstream from the Arabic
al-hurusufa​ that it means,

to the ear, something
about heart​ and choking​, which
I guess you could,

on the sharp leaves. ​Milicia,​
Neruda calls it—O little soldier,
newel, cupola,

grenado, thurible,
finial, gauntlet
hivelet, thistle,

how would the darkness
differ if we slipped
off to sleep

with those words only
other people use
on our lips?




James Richardson‘s collections of poems, aphorisms, ten-second essays and other microforms include Vectors; Interglacial, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; By the Numbers, a finalist for the National Book Award; and During, winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Award. He teaches at Princeton University. For Now will be published by Copper Canyon in June 2020.

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