Decline of the North American Songbird
Whatever they were, the first birds
of spring, the doctor
kneaded your breast
the mass, he needled
a bit of blood & core, asked me
to push Print—
I could imagine Beethoven,
maddened by syphilis or lead,
transcribing from reverie’s
phrasing & lull
into the language he could no longer hear
Ist es nicht schön?—
the salt acres’ echo image
the narwhal sees as the whaler’s bone-saw
migraines through his tusk—the song
mathematics & snowcrash
static, dissonance that can’t resolve,
gristle filming the halcyon sea.
Wrap the algaed tooth in a blanket
& carry it to town.
Cure for dropsy, melancholy,
strengthening the heart—
say you found the unicorn dying
in the sunlit field.
Nick the skin,
& a needle to plumb the mass
of cell & tissue. If sound
casts a shadow, the suburbs
sound like overcast sky, corpses
& the absence of corpses:
yellow throated vireo, hooded warbler
hepatic tanager, ovenbird.
To score their vanishing,
I listen to what Beethoven
hears in his teeth, the clenched
rod conducting the piano’s thrum
of C minor—chaos?
anguish?—from the soundboard
into bone, his inner ear,
a sort of dark matter
camera he’d concocted to feel
the storm of diminished
singing he heard
but would never hear,
& I transpose his sonata into the key
of the ultrasound scrolling
from the printer, the gland & wrecked
bundle of cells an image
of either the black-throated
blue warbler on the wing or the rowdy
of the meadows we can hardly
even picture—either terror
or its absence.
Is it not beautiful?
The sonata? No, I was wrong—
this is scored for human
voices, my father’s naked hands
sloshing fixer in his darkroom,
the image slowly coriolised into sight.
“Decline of the North American Songbird” is from Here Be Monsters (University of Georgia Press, 2010).