Keith Polette

Invitation Only

Its head naked as a comma, the vulture rides the air in circles, slow as the sweep of a broom in an old man’s hands. Ringed in red, its eyes are the color of onions, pocked and peeled for death. The feathers on the tips of its wings could be fingers stretched out as if poised to play the piano.

           bits of feather
           beneath the fir
           night music

I once saw a squadron of vultures drop out of the sky like bags of dust and descend upon a carcass half-hidden in grass. Gathered like mendicants in dark cloaks, they paused, their heads swaying, until some spring-loaded desire snapped open, and they dove forward in one raucous mantra.

           in the shadow
           of a hooked beak . . .
           dead of winter

Smoke Rings

In the film, the train pulls into the station, and we hear the sharp pitch of brakes and the sudden rush of air as it comes to a stop. This makes us think that time is an action of the mind, adjusting itself to breath slowing towards sleep.

           cloud-covered moon
           the way the conductor snaps
           his pocketwatch

Two women speak in the station cafe, the camera holding them in the same frame without moving, and we watch as through a window. One of them has blue eyes, the other brown. We like the mole on the forehead of the brown-eyed one. It reminds us of the small mouth we were born with, closed tight before we took our first breath and learned we could cry.

           action without action
           watching grainy silent movies
           from childhood

And then we remember that this is a French film, cinéma vérité, where no one laughs and no one cries, where everyone stands in silence for a long time watching the trains come and go, the way Camus said they would, like Sisyphus on rails.

           concrete ground
           where the stone refuses to roll
           a lone jazz trumpet

We get up and live the rest of our evening in silence, except for those few times we speak, pleased to see that our words, riding the air, have been translated into bold subtitles.

           marcel marceau
           pushing against walls
           only he cannot see

Keith Polette's book of haibun, pilgrimage, published by Red Moon Press, received the Haiku Society of America's Merit Book Award (2021).
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