Illustrating an answer to a question through the order in which a bird reveals letters by eating the grains set on top of them

by Joshua Poteat


       From J.G. Heck’s 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature & Science


In the empty muffin case, termites root their black chambers,

       famine through the hours, a devotion I do not understand.

I do not need muffins. The simple things most please me:
               six wrens climb their grass ladders each evening

before gnats gather, the goat rakes out a place to sleep

       among the pines, pink moths chewing wool scraps,

and the bridge where the gypsy boys piss into canoes.
               If you are the Lord then we are equally men.

We are winnowing the marsh for our drowned loves, Lord,

       bulrush necklaces, crawfish teething their hair.

We are carrying our drowned loves to the bathhouse,

               the tobacco barn, to bathe them in milk and ale,

to dry and cure them. We are men, you and I.

       Iodine and shale. Vein and spoon. Whatever they ask

is beyond our mercy. The simple things most please me:
               Illustrating the future by the actions of doves.

Illustrating the future by reading figures in dirt.

       I will not carry them further. I will not begin again.

The dogs will lick your shoes, which is pleasant except
               they will not stop. Please, now that you are here,

come in.


[Note: Italicized lines in this poem are quoted, with permission of the author, from David St. John.]