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.
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.
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
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 (http://www.uiowa.edu/~uipress). 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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