Reilly Cundiff ~ Five Poems

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.