Thursday May 23

Jesse Lee Kercheval's most recent book is Cinema Muto, a collection of poems about silent film (Southern Illinois UP, 2009) which won the Crab Orchard Open Selection Award. She is the author of 10 other books of fiction, poetry and nonfiction including The Alice Stories (U of Nebraska P, 2007) which won the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize and Dog Angel (U of Pittsburgh P, 2004).



One White Bird
In Florida I cling to summer by its hair
My hair is wet, salty; your head an August moon
The sugar sand melts under my feet &
sandpipers run ahead of me
nervous to be in this place
But where should they be, should I be?
Wisconsin? Skittering across a frozen lake
your voice calling?
Here I undress & stand naked
the air as warm & wet as my skin
In Wisconsin, we are naked only
under snowdrifts of comforter
On the horizon, the shrimp boats--
We walk in each other’s steps saying nothing
How will we know when we’ve arrived?
At what door?
To live in Wisconsin, you say, I must learn to accept snow
to pass through ice streets
to pass along ice banks
            more ice like glass in this town
            than glass like ice
            more frozen lake than shop windows
while skin passes from pink to blue to white to not mine at all
while I make and unmake my mind--go or stay
Florida sleeps with me, wraps me up at night & keeps
me warm as a turtle egg snug in beach sand--until morning
            when the cold wakes me in Wisconsin & I am always asking
            when summer is coming, why the lake is so hard, so white?
At times a drop of water falls from my eyes as if it were a tear
At times it reaches my cheek before it freezes brittle as a star
So cold on my skin, it burns
I confess there were times I didn’t love Florida
didn’t know how to love her
in August on the hottest day when the afternoon
thunderstorm didn’t come furious & cooling
The soft rotting of both the world
& the fallen oranges
A state of great swamps full
of the missing, of the lost in this life
whose bones
the police only intermittently
bother to find
August, when on the Interstate
the tourists are all headed north
& only the lost souls, the returning homesick
the indigent & the newly retired
are headed south
How often after such a day, did I fail to find
sleep? I didn’t do you justice, Florida
I wasn’t a good citizen
I confess I was uneasy
in a life of ease
In Wisconsin, even a lazy day fishing
means drilling a hole
in thick ice
Wisconsin, February--
from my office window, I see a man ride his bicycle across
two miles of frozen lake
For every soul headed north, for all those last seen as tail lights moving away, the songs on their radios fading, seen passing north along I-95 where the long haul trucks take up the song, singing it louder and farther on, their mud flaps slapping the rhythm of leave taking, heading for the Florida line, rolling past cattle egrets, white as lost handkerchiefs left in the ditches. One white bird for every soul moving north
At the rest stop, a Seminole walking his dog tells me a hurricane blew the egrets from Africa to Florida. Not a white bird in the state, he says, until that terrible storm
Now at the edge of the river they stop, at the edge of the water they bend their heads to drink. Hundreds, thousands . . .
It’s not sleep, but like that. A mammal waiting
for the light to return; curled tight in the dark.
It’s a cave. Day merges into night, dim into darker
guarded by evergreen shadows.
There’s a bed. And a couple in it. Who wants to wake
months earlier than the sun?
Now, outside, the waves are frozen, mid-spray
the lake covered by ice like an iron pot lid.
The air, a grainy B & W movie
The air, razor blades in the lungs
We used to walk on the beach, sand white as snow.
It took place far from here, but it’s not unimaginable--
is it?