photo by Prinsey Walker
A Long Distance Sonnet
New Orleans sidewalks are the worst place to fall.
The oak roots of this sinking city have cracked apart
the pavement. Three hundred years of urban sprawl
add up to childhood scrapes painted like abstract art.
If you tripped up the four steps it takes to be at my door,
I couldn’t catch you, only hold on to your hips.
Seven months of phone calls plan our sophomore
visit, but 963 miles separated make it hard to intermix.
Have we folded our own relationship into voyeur,
or am I simply missing your touch down my backbone?
Your mouth on my breasts instead of your voice in my ear,
my hand against your jaw instead of holding a phone?
The homemade candles and handwritten notes you ship to my mailbox
tell me it hurts just as much to fall on Indiana’s sidewalks.
There is a bird in my chest.
I can’t prove it, but
he’s slowly pecking apart my lungs.
When he flew in through my belly button,
I did not see the colours of his feathers,
but I have learned the sharpness of his beak.
No doctor has found evidence of the bird,
which does not stop him from flapping
inside my rib cage.
At first the only reminder of him
living inside me was a brash brush of feathers
against my heart or a talon snagging against bone.
I could pretend he was simply a line in a poem,
but then the pecking began. By now I’m sure there are
enough holes in my lungs to rival New Orleans streets.
A friend once told me to leave berries in my belly button
to lure the bird out. So for two weeks, I bought
blackberries, blueberries, strawberries
Not once did I see the bird. But I could still
l feel his hammered pecking.
Exhausted and sick
of having a berry scented belly I asked the bird,
“Why don’t you at least migrate for the winter?
Other birds do that.”
Surprisingly, the bird squawked back. Muffled
through my chest I couldn’t understand him,
so I rifled through my closet
to find a stethoscope.
I stuck it in my ears and heard him speak
over my heartbeat,
“Tamed birds do not migrate.”
“Tamed? You are not tame,” I told him.
“Well, why else would I be in a cage?”
“A cage?” I asked.
“What else would you call this place?”
“A body. My body.”
The bird seemed unfazed and went back to his drilling.
I poured a cup of chamomile tea, and thought to myself,
had I really invited him here?
If he wanted to leave, why had I kept him here?
The stethoscope still pressed against my chest
sung my own heart beat into my ears.
I pulled the stephrocscpe away
and threw it back into the closet.
It has stayed there since.
The bird has moved on
from lungs and now likes to scrape
tally marks into my ribs.
I can’t prove it, but
for years a bird has been caged
inside my chest.