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Flap, flap went the mind of the bird

Who flew out of my grandmother's attic

Like heat in the creases

Where air used to be. One week

Of summer was all that house

Could take of my brother and me.

Years later,

After she died, someone, my aunt I

Think, arranged for her to be driven

Back to Kingfisher, Oklahoma for the

Funeral. It was raining, the mortician

Hadn't arrived yet, so the driver

Left her there --

My grandmother, unembalmed, in darkness,

In the month of the Green Corn Ceremony.

But she wasn't Cherokee, she hated Indians.

Her story was only deep, irregular

Wing-beats of the heart.

Down dropped a huge bright-colored

Night-bird with large crested head,

Which, when raised, gave

The appearance of being startled.

It skimmed a few puddles gorging

On insects and a lizard or two.

Then banked south for my

Grandmother's house, bright star.


Out out,

The bumblebee caught in the Pepsi

Bottle, one of twelve

In the wood crate cooking

In the shed

And Arthur Van Horn drawing

Bow and resin across

Catgut, sour linen under the fiddle, rosewood


Under the chin -- his new baby

Cries her first cry

Of a thousand,

For she is Stella,

After the guitar,

Because rain and tears

Are separate.


Those cuff links, that blowfish,

That stuff in the Hefty bag

Are trash of my people -- whose

Bonds are movable like my

Mobile grandmother idling

In the parking lot of La Quinta.

Whosoever speaks her name

Fast in the window brings forth



The ballpark all lit up

Did not exist until we turned

Her transistor on and some kid

Whacked a rock back, back . . .

It knocked three feathers

Off the mercury vapor, landed on corrugated

Tin so that the interdigitated

Interrupted their sleep but will

Not be entering this poem.

They can just go back to pressing

On the chest like sorrow and letting

The game sink in its yellow

Case with seventy-two holes

For the speaker and a carrying

Strap. When the radio broke

I could not sling it like David

Because the strap broke too.

But that was long after sound

Commingling with a high brief whistle

Amid chatter and crack of the bat.

You wouldn't have known her,

I can hear my cousin say.

Her hair was all gray.

It used to be red

But gray is something I heard

Like the water-sucking clay.

But red is what she was

Who like a star revolved

Between three holes of light

Or hung like an eye-droop

In water-cooled air and a dark

Wind takes the summer.


There is the sound

Brando makes under

The wrought iron balcony

In New Orleans in summer

And Stella sweats

In her nightgown

And Desire runs

Along its length

But all you hear

Is Stanley -- everybody

Knows -- one word, two

Syllables, and even the space

Between the stars is awestruck

That a man can feel such

Stubborn, stupid language

Crawl out of his brain,

Into his mouth, and scrape

The ceiling of heaven --

Stella -- you are beyond,

Stella -- knock, knock.

I tap the limousine glass

Like an ape, like Stanley

Kowalski interdicting silence.

Stella -- the lights come on

In rooms 3 and 12, a hot

Humid air turns to pink smoke

Against the cool adobe wall.

From Swamp Candle, by Ralph Burns, published by University of Iowa

Press ( Copyright © 1996 by Ralph Burns.

All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Ralph Burns is co-director of creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has published six collections of poems: Ghost Notes which received the Field Poetry Prize, (Oberlin College Press, 2001); Swamp Candles (University of Iowa Press, 1996); Mozart's Starling (1990); Any Given Day (1985); Windy Tuesday Nights (1984); and US 1983).

Burns has published in many magazines including The Atlantic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, and Field. He has won a number of awards, including the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Award for the Best First Book in Poetry, and two fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. Next week, we will feature an excerpt from his latest book, Ghost Notes .

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DIPTERA- An extensive order of insects having only two functional wings and two balancers, as the house fly, mosquito, etc. They have a suctorial proboscis, often including two pairs of sharp organs (mandibles and maxill[ae]) with which they pierce the skin of animals. They undergo a complete metamorphosis, their larv[ae] (called maggots) being usually without feet.

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