Here is a yellow circle with a single black dot in the middle. Here is an orange V which protrudes from the circumference of the circle. These markings are on paper and are meant to indicate the head of a bird. This paper also contains shades of blue (scapulars) and pink (tail feathers). If I wanted to say something terribly intimate, reveal some ancient hurt or desire, reckon with the body’s inflictions or (don’t say it!) the soul’s obtuse convictions, I might do so in the middle of what looks like a paragraph describing an abstract bird, and I might call that paragraph a poem, and I would call that “poem” “The Bird.” Perhaps I would “send” the “poem” out. (As if on a wing! As if in a mailbox!) The editors might immediately decline me. I mean, it—the editors might immediately decline “The Bird” which has at its heart either deep forgiveness or deep refusal to forgive, and in which I have stripped off my clothes and arranged my body just so, in a way that owed to lighting or framing, divulges neither scar nor age. Or perhaps one editor would forward to another, leaving “The Bird” forever In Progress. Allowing too, that the editors may simply leave me Received. Have I been Received? Has “The Bird” been Received? What is it to Receive? And what to Give? How much More of Myself can I Offer? Why is this Room so Cold? Where did Mother Go? What Even is Love? What if Spring Comes and we don’t Recognize it as Such? Notice too, the orange squiggles meant to represent the bird’s legs. And look! Nary a Stem to Light On.
Which is better: flesh or stone? A beak or a mask of stars? A jar with its lid screwed tight or the juice of fireflies smeared on the wall? Thirty-five years ago, when my mother married her third husband, she made me wear a terrible red dress. Shoulder pads, a little rope belt. Had I thought to hang myself with it? Just a passing thought. Everything, a passing thought. Then, the reception. A beautiful crystal swan dripping, melting. Me a puddle. My father had dropped me off. Didn’t have the gas money, was at least a thousand miles away. If the museum is closed, you can just walk down to the grave. What is the opposite of art? Google says: openness, sincerity, inability, livelihood, woodenness, holiday, revelry, ham-fistedness, grind, craft, hate, gig, gaiety; says, almost everything is opposite of art. Art as its own antonym. Is this art? I tell R she sounds too pedantic at the end of her poem. Why doesn’t she tell me to fuck off? End with a shard, I say, a milktooth, getting stuck on a tilt-a-whirl, feeding an old woman applesauce from a plastic spoon. If the world was covered in tiger lilies, there’d be no room for my computer.
Nicole Callihan’s This Strange Garment will be published by Terrapin Books in 2023. Her other books include SuperLoop and the poetry chapbooks: The Deeply Flawed Human, Downtown, and ELSEWHERE (with Zoë Ryder White), as well as the novella, The Couples. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Conduit, The American Poetry Review, and as a Poem-a-Day selection from the Academy of American Poets. Find out more at www.nicolecallihan.com.