the museum of americana

a literary review

“For these dead birds sigh a prayer”—Poetry by Grant Clauser

William Shakespeare
 
On this morning’s hike beside
the Delaware I find the body
of a red-winged blackbird,
mixed in stones and flood debris,
the red flag of its epaulets still bright
like notes left hanging in the air
after singing has stopped.
I think how when they puff
their shoulders to call,
you hear the alarm of river rapids,
the purple berries of sumac
where as a boy I’d stumble
along the bank, try to wade out
beneath the abandoned train trestle
because I knew the best fishing
was in the dark shadow of the tracks,
and I thought the birds were calling
their panic at my falls, useless birds,
just enough color to notice, and what
phrase did Kevin hear in their caterwaul
the summer before when he crawled
his way onto the train bridge, stretched
over gaps in the railroad ties, 30 feet
above white water? Sometimes we think
we need open air, just a little to start,
to silence, to bridge one lost desire
to another imagined. He jumped
into the fast water and was gone.
And like the oh-ka-lee call from
the riverbank, he was carried
into the day’s background.
How the town talked about it
for months then forgot, one din
replaced by another, the blackbirds
repeating their sigh by the water, ok-ka-lee.
 
 
~~~
Grant Clauser lives in Pennsylvania and works as an editor, writer and teacher. He is the author of four books including Reckless Constellations (winner of the Cider Press Review Book Award) and The Magician’s Handbook. Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tar River Poetry and others. Twitter: @uniambic