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.



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