“Adieu l’Emile je vais mourir
C’est dur de mourir au printemps tu sais
Mais je pars aux fleurs la paix dans l’ame
Car vue que tu es bon comme du pain blanc
Je sais que tu prendras soin de ma femme”–
“Le Moribond” by Jacques Brel
Dear Susannah like a bird
I am going to drive out today
to the desert, you know the place
at the turn in the last road when you pass that old house
burnt-out, they never did tell us
But you know the place, right? Of course you do.
You know how quiet it gets
when the swallows come in and sew the sky back
into place, how
you only hear the sky
touching the ground so gently, Susannah, so gently
as if it were afraid to harm it!
I am going to drive out to that place, Susannah, it’s hard
in spring, you know, but
because you are good like fresh white bread to me, and the mornings
in your house which was open to every wandering thing
like me, I want
you to take this letter
and burn it
and don’t let the dog get too close to the flames, you know
how he is, he’ll
burn himself, and make sure not to
use anything from your brother’s treehouse
I know it’s all run-down, but
you know how he loved it, how he laughed
when I was the only one of us to swing myself inside,
lie there, like Alice too big
for the house, too small
for most other things. And you shook your head when
your sister shook hers and said, “You’re crazy and I love you for it.”
And I’d told you, fever-eyed and trembling,
why don’t we all go to the desert together? A road
trip, It’ll be so wonderful. You said sure, your brother
shook his head with hair like wheat, so sad.
Your sister said she didn’t trust me to drive. I understand.
My hands were shaking anyway, so much
that I couldn’t write, only talk
so fast you couldn’t catch up, couldn’t come
walking with me
out there, in the dawn in the desert,
where even your shadow says, it’s enough.
And you remember why they call it
the devil’s bullet, don’t you? How wide your eyes went
when I told you, should anything happen, remember
the last one in the chamber. There’s always one.
They always forget it.
It goes out alone to shatter the earth
and frighten the birds.
A half-glimpsed narration of ominous events we only can barely perceive before the images scatter in a burst of gunshot and a flurry of startled birds.
—M. T. Anderson, 2010 Hunger Mountain Prize for Young Writers Judge