You hear a voice speaking
about a bird dragging its dark universe
of feathers across your yard,
and you realize it must be you
telling the boy how you carried its body
beyond the ambit of your dogs.
One eye, round as a coin,
fixing fear upon you, the other,
half shut. How the bird hauled
its body back into your yard,
dying with a will you could only
admire. Am I the bird?, the boy asks.
You can barely see his face
through the slot, eight inches
from the bottom of the door.
Pie-hole, they call it. You know
he cannot be cured of his crime.
But you can’t help yourself—
this language your body speaks
as you crouch, palms, knees
pressed against the prison floor.
He is nineteen, has an aunt, a mother,
both illiterate, both a hundred miles
away. No one knows why
they have stopped visiting.
You imagine his body, each Sunday,
learning again of their absence.
You imagine his organs, his bones
liquefying inside of his skin.
You imagine his eyes
staring out from his own
gathered flesh. It is three days
before Christmas and you have
ten minutes to spread something
like joy. You think of Vermeer,
the woman in blue, refusing
to obey the physics of light.
You do not even know
the source of your own voice.
Am I the bird? There is a window
beyond the canvas but Vermeer
thinks a shadow will be
distracting. You tell him—
the boy—about your dream.
How your mind had been
like a living thing nailed down,
trembling with what ifs
and how comes. And then
these words: I hear you,
I hear you breathing. A sound
coming from within and
beyond. Not a voice, exactly.
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