As if born to make jewels
of themselvesonyx, say, or ebony,
the word my mother used for black
to name a piano’s enchanting
breedtwelve birds slide like baubles
along a coiled scrap of fencing wire.
Risky treasures. Wretched
as the barbs they step between. They caw
and caw until they’ve swallowed
their shiny chatter and left
only the quiet clacking of their tail feathers.
These, when they turn
to one another, swing back and forth
like a dozen clocks’ blunt hour-hands
asking, What time? What time?
What time? And what should we make
of this ground’s damp leaves?
The gold in another kind of light
might be scraps of fabric from a college girl’s
recital gown this bowed wire
could form the hoops of.
If crows would listen, I’d tell them
any time divisible by twelve cannot be
counted on. Year or minute, it will fracture
and fracture like a flawed gem, leaving
only the meager anguish pearls are made from.
Or crows, this earth’s necklace,
whose crude feet might divine one moment,
polished, almost whole.
Forget the universe. The moon is fine
at that dull distance. It keeps
its old man rising and falling and held
aloft. Instead, say oak. Mean darkness
waiting in a green field. Or pendulum,
for an instant, turning on itself. I say
strength, and think the gilt edge of a mirror
or small fish rippling a clear pond.
I say water, too, and mean not death,
but refuge. A place where going into
can later be came back from. A tangible blue.
The boy floats. From the edge of the pond
you watch as he drifts farther out. He is small
in his red-striped shirt and he mouths words
for everything above him: tree branches
and all the planets. You think, He directs the sky
this way. He breathes, and his chest, pressing upward,
keeps the sky aloft, and beyond it the sun, his
favorite marble. A bird glides overhead
on its rusty breast. It is a speck where the silver
is scratched from the sky. The one flaw
in the back of the mirror. The world is imperfect.
Today this makes a god of you. Through the opening
you watch the boy flying on the water.
His breath makes his shirt sing. You sing with it.
Melanie Carter grew up in Florida and holds an MFA in creative writing from The University of Alabama. Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Antioch Review, The Greensboro Review, and other journals. She currently teaches composition, literature, and English as a Second Language in Los Angeles.