Self-Portrait as a Turkey Vulture
Must be some kind of man’s vertigo-
I’m Judy, I’m Madeleine, I’m Marilyn
Monroe in a black bobbed wig.
O Periphas, I’ve been your wife in bed,
a sign as pure as dove’s feathers, purer
than battery acid. But this is what pity
from the gods will do-I’m a red balloon
filled with rocks. Cotton my ivory mouth
with your vitriol, your anthrax-and, smiling,
I will swallow on the count of ten.
A Sign of Summer
A month from a skylark to the summer; half of a month from a finch;
a little from a wagtail; no day from a swallow.
Kuu kiurusta kesään; puoli kuuta peipposesta;
västäräkistä vähäsen; pääskysestä ei päivääkään.
-a Finnish proverb
Births carry death on their backs
into this world. Or maybe it was the other way round
with us, little seed. I didn’t care for fecundity,
how the hard tooth sounds gouge the lip,
and took up instead with those mythic virginal cults, sleeping
with a switch of the chaste tree under my bed.
Tsk-I keep resurrecting those ancients because they know
things we’ve lost. The recipe to transform
a disappointed woman into myrrh, a bear, barren:
just one of my favorites. Listen, I swallowed
six pomegranate seeds and left spring behind me.
I settled on a farm in a small Finnish town.
Oval leaves glistened on every silver birch and
swallows chattered from the rafters.
I didn’t have to wait much longer, then.
The Muse Takes Up Bird Watching
The next morning, she finds smears of French Ultramarine fingered on her thighs as if he’d been experimenting with a palette for the sky.
They spot two blue birds-an indigo bunting and a blue grosbeak-in one afternoon. He points out the difference. She creates the space between them with no name.
He, the artist, begins to sand over the evening sky.
Is there room for a bird? Yes, she thinks. The bunting. Small and vivid bright, the jewel they sift the trees for.
He selects a brush.
She finds his palette on the window sill. The window is open and the plate cools her fingers.
The artist primes the sky white.
She considers, instead, the grosbeak. Larger, with a heavy bill. Inelegant, slate blue. It is the bird watching him as he scans for something else.
These are oil paints, not watercolor. They do not wash off.
She has been waiting while he comes and goes.
The Problem with Species
Her toes. Galatea does not want them sucked,
for each pale pad to shrivel in the mouth
of this man whose arms she woke tucked in.
She took her first breath with her breast
in his hand, marble skin succumbing
to the fevered, sweating fingers of her maker.
Her namer. A god can only answer one prayer
at a time, so while his tongue slicks in those
shallows she listens to a chorus of birds
just outside. Does he love her more or less,
now she has a name? Her palimpsest is bare.
Her flesh flushed to blood as borders hardened
around her. The birds watch, apart from her,
and cannot fit her name in their mouths.
Bed of sixteen nails.
Bed of saw and tooth.
Bed of drag and bluff,
of sweat and collar pool.
Bed of the open fist.
Bed of knotted socks.
Bed of my near-misses.
Bed of cinder block.
Bed of one closed tear.
Bed of soil and seed.
Bed of rootless hair,
bed of contracted feet.
Bed against the doorjamb,
glass around my head,
bed a trade, and trade a sham,
and shame against the bed.
Reilly Cundiff holds an MFA from Hollins University. A finalist for the 2017 Francine Ringold Award for New Writers, her work will appear in a forthcoming issue of Nimrod International Journal and Crab Orchard Review. She sells and repairs books in Fredericksburg, VA.