By W. J. Herbert
Featured Art: Bird’s Nest and Ferns by Fidelia Bridges, 1863
Cement truck crushing stones
at 3 a.m. on a Flatbush side street?
No, must be the double bass player
grinding his seven-foot case along broken sidewalks,
as if inside his sarcophagus
whose fist-sized wheels are screaming
there’s a mummy dressed in lead,
and it’s so hot again my ceiling fan’s blade
is a soldier’s lame leg that is drooping
and each time he turns,
it drums on the inverted edge of the light bowl
while someone upstairs
drops the booted foot he just cut from a corpse,
but he keeps cutting and dropping,
cutting and dropping,
so it must be a dozen corpses, or
maybe it’s a frozen hen landing again and again,
as though my landlady’s niece, still drunk,
has made up a game in which you get ten points if,
when you drop it from the top of a ladder,
the hen lands on her severed neck.
I can’t sleep. Even if Sialia sialis
relies on dead trees for nest sites,
it’s smart enough to live deep away from the world.
W. J. Herbert’s debut poetry collection, Dear Specimen, was selected by Kwame Dawes as winner of the 2020 National Poetry Series and will be published by Beacon Press in 2021. Her work was also selected by Natasha Trethewey for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2017 and appears, or is forthcoming, in Alaska Quarterly Review, Boulevard, New Ohio Review, Pleiades, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Kingston, New York and Portland, Maine.
Originally appeared in NOR 20.