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Spring/Summer 2006, Volume 22.3

Poetry

Tim KahlPhoto of Tim Kahl.


Tim Kahl has work published or forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, American Letters & Commentary, Berkeley Poetry Review, Fourteen Hills, George Washington Review, Illuminations, Indiana Review, Limestone, Nimrod, South Dakota Quarterly, The Spoon River Poetry Review, The Texas Review, and other journals. He has translated Friederike Mayröcker, Lêdo Ivo, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and José Saramago.

 

The Overseer Of Birds

Her lips are worn down. The same thing said over and over.
One can see the blood through them a little bit.

A short woman with a cane wears a black hairnet.
She spits as she speaks to the birds she sees.
The birds are not flying because of the weather.
They walk without blowing over,
no foreman directing their foraging.
They are designed to attract the attention of women.

Her lips are worn down. One can see the blood through
them a little bit. The same thing said over and over to
the posture of the oaks. The birds land
on their gnarled fingers pointing past
anything the horizon dare speak.
The birds accept their insignificance
like a woman alone on a walk
enduring a belligerent day in spring.

The same thing said over and over to
the imagined skeletons of birds she compares
to those of prehistoric lizards.
If only the birds hadn't lost their teeth
by speaking through them, clenched
against the dark clouds' scattered complaints.
Listen to them chatter in their language.
They always sound like they are quarreling.

The old birds sing of lost feathers,
the young birds of a wind that never swirled,
never changed direction.
The short woman with the cane
is persistent. She has learned a few of their
utterances, practices them to keep herself sharp
in case their iridescent heads bow
to flash her a sign through the rain.

Her lips are worn down. One can see the blood through
them a little bit. The same thing said over and over to
the sky that replies by sending down messengers.

How does one send up a single precious comment…

 

Kaniksu

The mist rises off the lake at night like heat off
an animal that has been cut open. It moves off
in the direction of enterprise, following the sled roads
that ran logs to the creeks, the mulepackers hauling
lumber up to the lookouts, the Kokanees displaced
by sportier trout. The mist begins to reveal
the visage of a silent film star who founded
a movie camp on Mosquito Bay. She starred in
Back to God's Country and brought her bear
to Portland for a fundraiser, but the bid to rival
Hollywood expired when the director went mad
because of his chronically frostbitten feet.
Her film animals began to die in their cages;
the rest of them headed to the San Diego Zoo,
in tow across the lake like old man Schnurr
who rowed for two days with his wife's dead body
pulled behind him. Oh how with a snoot full
he loved to yodel. The echoes now off Chimney Rock
are as faint as the breath of a sandpiper
running from the tongue of the water's edge darting
out at its feet. The echoes have been smothered
by the chorus of sawyers ripping board feet
of timber for years, the steel teeth angrily
snapping closed along the trapline,
John Nordman's haying crew plying their
Swedish expletives, the miner's stories that
developed a faith in the fortune lying
under the surface. Some men have found
enough gold there to keep themselves happy.
Their horizons turned out to be
milkweeds falling in the dark,
fed by what light remains.
Others stopped to linger by the moss-covered
stumps on the path to the claim, and they ask—
what's the hurry, hell's not that far away.
Surely, the folly of men is not the only response
to those who scheme for riches, willing to
undertake the taxidermy of a place.
There is always the option of skipping stones
at the moon's reflection, listening to
the habits of the night's creatures and
determining whose faces appear in the mist
in the guise of the animal dead.

 

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