Sunday, February 5, 2012

Monday Poems: "Meriwether and the Magpie" -- by Linda Bierds

Did he know the one as sorrow, the one
he held, gun-shot fallen, its
remarkable long tale . . . beautifully variegated?

For the viewer, fate’s in the numbers legend says:
One magpie for sorrow, two for mirth,
three for a wedding, four for a birth . . .

And wedded in their way they were—Lewis, the bird—
their fragile union finalized with a narrow ring
of yellowish black
 just at the rim of the bird’s dim eye.

September. Morning. A breeze
through the aspens, fine. (Five for silver, six for gold . . .)
Two centuries still, until language could cup,

in the binary digits of zero and one, all
it could name. And so he cupped the bird,
and framed in script its glossy frame:

the belly is of a beatifull white . . . the wings . . .
party coloured . . . changeable . . . sometimes presenting as . . .
orange yellow to different exposures of light.

Time still, until sorrow’s variegated wing
would bisect the land, would sever from the whole
each singular figure. Here was wonder,

chipped from the western sky, its legs and taloned toes,
black and imbricated, the shifting tint of its shape,
parti-colored, changeable. (Seven for a secret not to be told.)

The wings have nineteen feathers . . . it’s usual food
is flesh . . . beautifull . . . yellow . . . a redish indigo blue . . .
at this season single as the halks.

September, the little rhyme fluttering above him,
dragging in from the far Atlantic its swift, domestic echo.
Did he wonder, then, why the story closed so suddenly?

(Eight for heaven, nine for hell, and ten
for the devil’s own self.) Why abundance alone
could stop the heart’s progression?

Morning. Nine’s beak, eight’s weightless wings.
Then ten, heartless with promise, sets down
on a dipping branch, the click of its digits—

black and imbricated—beginning
the cycle again: the one and then the nothing
from which the one sets forth. 

*     *     *     *     *

Linda Bierds, born in Anchorage, Alaska, has taught English and writing at the University of Washington since 1989. She has received several Pushcart Prizes, as well as grants and awards from the Seattle Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the MacArthur Foundation.

She has published several books of poetry, including First Hand (2005), The Seconds (2001), The Profile Makers (1997), and Flight (2008), in which the above poem appears. She lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. 

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