Henrietta Goodman

Bird of Paradise

It’s not a bird, and that’s part
of the problem. It calls into question
what pleases the eye, makes you doubt
what you see. If paradise means
things are what they seem, there’s no need
for a second glance, or a second guess.
You can take what you want
and what you want
will want to be taken. But this flower,
if that’s what it is, has more to do
with possibility than with paradise,
more to do with iron burning
in slow motion, smoldering orange dust.
You’re in a church and that’s part
of the problem. Vows aren’t supposed to be
made with crossed fingers,
but you keep thinking of how he showed you
the configuration of a V-8 engine—
palms out, fingers laced together,
the way you’d turn your hands
into a church for a child, and say the rhyme.
God as an engine seems right. Not God
to make promises to, or in front of,
but God to grind promises up,
burn them like gas. You know
they must be good for something,
that they aren’t meant to only be kept.


Henrietta Goodman
“Bird of Paradise” is from Take What You Want, (Alice James Books, 2007).