The Dome

by Chad Sweeney

When we were the poorest,
mom paid my weekly allowance
in birds. That one is yours, she whispered

so as not to disturb it.
If you clean the oven
I’ll give you that red one.

In a few months
I owned all the birds on the street,
blue jays, finches, a lame owl

cowled in the clock tower.
We had to walk farther each Saturday
to find a new fountain or thicket

so mother could pay me what she owed.
We stood on a bridge.
Our soldiers were marching away,

and trying to sound brave.
Their numbers were staggering.

I invented a mathematics
to understand them.
I subtracted them from summer

and it was winter. Most of our houses
were gone, and the birds too.
The university had been bombed

with my father inside, attending a reading
by some Polish poets.
The poems were so sturdy, he said,

they held up the dome of the ceiling.

CHAD SWEENEY is the author of three books of poetry, Parable of Hide and Seek (Alice James, 2010), Arranging the Blaze (Anhinga, 2009), and An Architecture (BlazeVOX, 2007) and editor of Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds: The Teachers of WritersCorps in Poetry and Prose (City Lights, 2009). Sweeney’s work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Crazyhorse, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Black Warrior, and elsewhere. He is coeditor of Parthenon West Review and is working toward a Ph.D. in literature at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where he teaches poetry and serves as assistant editor of New Issues Press.