I caught a dove darkening the dawn
with her brooding,
grieving the loss of the cold ark.
I let her fly near the light
of the bright green lime tree,
the steaming red hibiscus.
Esther Phillips, “Bird Catcher”
The sun falls out of heaven like a stone,
a network of bridges sprouts over the rivers—
so many tunnels deep into the hills
like bridges connecting these islands of houses
teetering on the side of the undulating hills.
A dark stain in the sky smells of iron,
you can see the gleam of steel packed
on the barges nosing towards the Ohio.
In the boarding house a man, a round,
plump, little black man, dances
with quiet dignity while holding
the soft tremor of a pigeon in his hands.
He blows a spray of whiskey
in its curious eye. Soon it is drunk
with revelations, the bones slipping.
The conjure man has learned
the vocabulary of leaves and roots,
the dialog of blood. He breaks
the neck with common mercy,
spills the blood in an enamel cup
with its brown cracks and chipped
lip; he makes a circle in the earth,
scoops up dirt, lays the pigeon
out, wing to wing as if in flight.
From here you can’t hear the drum
pounding in the air, can’t see
the flame of light on his skin,
can’t understand the crowd of words
spilling rapidly from his mouth,
but you imagine that his black knife,
with its silver edge, has split
open so many breasts to find the green,
pink, and red entanglement of visions.
If you look closely into the slippery
viscera, you will see a thin mist
rising like mysteries he must read.
Then he covers the inert corpse
with dirt and as if to fulfill
the promise of resurrection, he pours
the blood over the upturned earth,
and raises his eyes from the earth
over the stand of pine trees,
across the mountains, then east over
the Monogahela, going home,
going home. The fat, squat man
stands, spreads his arms and
in this instance you know
he too can fly, that he can lift
himself, dusty coat and hat
and rise upwards, soaring, soaring.