Tony Brinkley

Mimic Bird

If we could say in English “it thinks,” as we say “it rains” or
“it blows,” we should be stating the fact most simply
and with the minimum of assumption.

—William James

1. Mimic bird mimics

Mimic mimics: “Take a walk,
I’ll follow.” Our walk follows—

and so many bird cries, bird songs,
bird calls—every one an instant—

but birds from everywhere, not only
here, but further south, much warmer

climates—when we saw now after all
that here was only one, a mockingbird

who at that moment weaving in and out
of starlings was a starling, then departing

queer churled like a conqueror. Only
one—and always many more then too.

2. My ever-not-quite

When woodpecker
churls, repeats,

the other queers,
mockingbird mimes,

who is not meant to die—
with sounds like chase-devil tinctures,

St. John reds the yellow
flowers bleed, the once-repeated

that repeat again
while sutures

that had stitched my mind
and brain were loosening.

3. Perdido

He speaks to me from me of someone else—
visibly the visible—in darkness without trees,

and Mimic Bird is sad, bewildered,
alien drawn from pathos, a little crazy bird.

Blue, not impossibly, is no less likely than
his yellow from the red sun if your love.

4. Queer Churl

A beginning is a queer churl, syrinx
for larynx, near homonym to a bird
cry, failed at the start
if dark is still conqueror, sunset
not sunrise found in the west.

5. Following

At 6 I think only of you,
the blanket turns over
around my shoulders,
sun outside, sky like
a pond at sunrise with
trees reflected in pink
waters. Then the sky
grays into blue. I see
these things seeing you.

At 7 I’m not ready—
I imagine a piano playing
ceilings, I imagine
your flamingos.

At 8 I’m not ready to lose
you. I see you seeing
these things—at 8
thinking of you.

Oh wondrous and courageous,
oh courageous and wondrous
each of us,

teaching and aching,
cutting and mending,
having without holding,
at 9 or 10 letting go.

At 8 I’m not ready to lose you.
The pink sky grays into blue.

At 3, bird calls, repeated, the call
has three notes, two repeated,
one higher—and others
less distinct—separations.

I imagine you
watching their murmur
the way fingers find
entrances and exits

learning the pain of following.
Quiet punctures with morning
bird calls at 3. Following
wears to a smooth fine resonance.

At 4 running over my arms
this lovely morning
before 5 with early light.

At noon
sunlight blinds the sky
bright blue, shades
its windows, leaves
the church doors
locked. You pray
in private, furtively
in too much day.

At 8 I’m not ready to lose you.
I see these things seeing you.

6. Like nonexisting balance

Once bordering the next occurrence,
just digression—I thought

I understood you well enough
but on your own, without, and what you said

had not occurred to me to say. Your words
though almost words were almost bird cries

in the way that screens begin to scream,
or Queer Churl queered and mimicked

where a starling quavered,
wrenching the shocked stars.

7. Impersonations among those
who cleave the flames

But where were you once then,
dissolving the intervals that faced us—
not soul-like but now as in a psalm
or summoning from my cellar—
and to be who I will with you yet,
although too late for thou,
my decapitated murmur,
with great good fortune I might still
outlive but could not possibly outdo?

8. Father, can’t you see
that I am burning?

Fading cold,
demanding while
my hands passed through you
to the hidden star, the benchmark—

Disarmed dishevel wonder—

I held you in my mother’s hands,
I offered you her warmth while you ran there ahead of me
to hold the weather out as it came streaming in . . .

Father, could you see that I was burning?

9. Like a snake who stands
on his own two legs

Like a red snake hopping on robin’s legs,
surprising worms in a long morning yard

with early sun, mimic bird makes colors
vertically. What you eat cannot be stolen.

What you eat is yours. This document
is a poem—even the human beings.

Tomorrow to remeasure.
Joseph for the evening.

Dazzle for dazzle
our dangled pleasure.

10. Possibly plurals

And who to be for if not you—like the moth through
the screens of mouths and months, the quiet
of the amputee-wish to hold on
that screens approach
if you turn the sound up and turn
down the meaning to screams,
to raw senseless as,
on the way to the bottom of the chatter
where a mimic bird churls or trees.

11. If you like sugar

If you like sugar, Joseph, here
is the sugar for you to like,
ground like the crystal crossbeam
through our window,
under the blinds
where you fulfilled
windplayers as the masters
stirred and pulsed a major,
under the finger of the chord
that bathed the hook and captured
just this gasp before you threw
me back relieved,
revived with a new lease on lived
expression and a dead beat.

12. Whatever this love is

The stitches that connect my mind and brain were
loosened—palpably—while sutures that
unstitched transitions opened largely
imperceptibly, an unseen feeling,
nonsense and the flickering—not the eyes’,
now in myself—that turned
the thoughts to strangers—
not to selves so much as cloud
arrangements while the screen blanked, scream
yawned and a fire blinked up like the rumor
from your vanished shout. In approximations, distant movers
packed the contents of uncertain
memories, leaving—but you thought without you—while
the sunset tilted slightly and you noticed that this thought you thought out
now was someone else’s, later to report
whatever light left dazzled.

Then, the sunset rose, a second morning startled, native of dark
and seizure and necessity.

13. Approaching the dreamer

Hiding was in plain sight—when,
fresh from slaughter,
he brought the cow’s liver
his father had given him,
stirred by the warmth that seemed
to float through
and almost drown him out—not all
of any of us dies all at once—
he arrived, he smiled in blood—
how welcome the food was—
nothing dies almost at once—but his mother now
does not welcome her speculative wonder,
fresh from slaughtering—he was
that pleased, that wondering, sunrise
hiding in plain sight for
her to wonder at

14. Love me always

The verbs tensed, sleeping in a drift
of burning back the fields, and I was

combing, raking through them in the burning,
looking how to ask if I knew how—I didn’t—

if I could—not yet—so hard to put a finger
on an outrage—if I learned how

I would say how—I was earlier—the reflections
I brought with me moved to sway you, swerved

from swaying to you, but despite me almost like assault
unless I lifted from the burning unsaid homonyms

resembling bird calls—imperatives to love
and mimic with an alien sound a simpler knowing

almost nothing I heard first by asking,
next by saying you by name, mine

you knew already, yours was new to both of us
but unsaid earlier if guessed earlier.

15. Spider legs and pleasure

A spider living in the laundry,
stringing between your arm
and collar a web of many principles,
predates as quietly as summer,
breezing through your costumes,
tallying incidents.

I was crowning colors unselfconsciously
and still as unimagined,
not impossibly. Quiet pleasure.
Quiet river. Quiet
preparations. I come up
for air and garden

in your clothing—clothesline
for the halter you hang out our
banners on, flagging
wind to dry things through,
loose, shivering feet
like four wrens fed too little—
I had said this all forever.

16. And Joseph is the lover

Idle, torn things
like the tongues of birds

mimed words
like chameleon rapid

Joseph turned into a color.

17. Known earlier but now new
only out of kindness.

Queen churl, queer bird,
make-up of an early riser—

slip pretense, skirt
objects—palor reddening,

floral make-up for the sexton
when you reassert the color—

foolishly precarious—
but only for a morning pleasure.

18. Hopelessly lost flamingos
In Severobaikalsk on Lake Baikal, “hopelessly lost flamingos occasionally fall from the sky and are warmed and fed in the town’s tropical winter gardens.”
For this moment
this Siberian reflection
of these gardens
in an America
not approached yet,
nor lost sight of,

and when—mimed less strictly
than before, cross-dressed masculinity
is where a little girl hangs out and brandishes
her sickle, hammering tropical climate patterns—
things tear, the hoped-for possibly
in a black smile, almost negligible,

waits to be
read into—and almost
not holding out love, the tropics
of falling and pink warmed over—
your hand’s flamingos

micro-tone choreographies

19. Child plowed under

Mimics chatter—

this room without a floor, ceiling, door
houses where? in whose restlessness?
in touch less with the hands than with

your thoughts—the memories if let go of
free a space to room in where to think sometimes
what you are thinking—not before or after—

at the moment you reject the thought, less
difficult to wish than not, but what you meant,
which no one will allow for,

windowed, then breezed out:
a child plowed under— starved
seed for a famished oven—

but prepares this
new for you.

20. Like a vesicle lodged in darkness

Each time you don’t see
the most intimate organs

with little occlusion
Joseph in blood

the flesh thought out
held up

to sunrise for pleasure
of showing it off

his golden impossibility
the still imperceptible

precarious, unsettled

I love
in every perfume

among speculatives

almost until day-break,
the sound wavering

muttering children
while rolled over

particle or sapphire
to stand on

the vesicle lodged in darkness

21. My new oldness

You don’t or you do
flutter the ending, seen
by the water—Queer Churl,
start over as if
still raucous for first things.

22. An old blessing

Being split,
said sky from

heaven, earth
from underneath, and you

as ever, bird
or coward,

flight your dwelling.
Breathe me out

into the dark a hole
breathes out through.

23. Lazy Bird

Before clothing
begin taking off

to bare bones, to recostume
this way it feels,

tempered by felt, fantasized as always
by a violence we will both forget

both to ourselves and one another
unless Queer Churl mimics otherwise

and swerves a line of flight
by dazzling infinitesimals

while seeding riffs
with new-born sunrise.

No cruelty holds me when I feel this dazzle
Mimic Bird has chorused,

but the splitting off and unfixed meaning
only heal me when we intercede together—

two abolitionists one hundred years too early
who turn the startled voices into trumpets.

24. Involutions

Listening involutes whatever
almost into words, almost crying out,
my reflexes from yours that told me
almost what I want to know
and now no one knows better
than you do, the consequence
of being palpable, proximity
to almost anything, confusing
what goes down, what
comes up, crows and flies off
in the reflex—each slight
in again about to be, dear
Queer Churl, like my only
love, the dead of something
precious, of the startled shock
from missing what I held,
a sparrow and an awkwardness,
my need to strike out balanced
with my need to withdraw gently
while you settle, and extend
into the singular.

Blue not possibly but not less likely
than the sun-red out of yellow

25. Hungry ghosts

Necessities wash toward me through my senses,
and I look out and see a world of objects. It is all

so easy, easily undone, easily lost out on. Easily
refuted. Each thing borders the calamity you see too

easily. Queer Churl dear, who makes
my resin, swallow the reason
down, drink in my arches.

Birds like floating angers that burn at the touch
the hungers that starve if you feed them—

I whisper, queerly—for tomorrow
you do find solutions,

approximating, Queer Churl conquering,
in the way that screens do scream out.

26. Bird from paradise

Like mother-pearl cut from a string
of others, father-sound
calling the quiet experience
that one way is thought,
the other a thing whose thought
disappears, a mimic bird covers
it over and keys.

27. Beginning is a Queer Churl

Conquer me, Queer Churl,
for you to speak for, know before
knowing, no one to speak of, lived
as if sooner
before re-approaches
lightning the outcries lucid as milk.

Tony Brinkley’s poetry has appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, The New Review of Literature, Cerise Press, Drunken Boat, Otoliths, and Poetry Salzburg Review. His translations from Russian, German, and French have appeared in Shofar, Beloit Poetry Journal, The New Review of Literature, Cerise Press, May Day, World Literature Today, and Hungarian Review. He is the author of Stalin’s Eyes (Puckerbrush Press) and the co-editor with Keith Hanley of Romantic Revisions (Cambridge University Press).
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