Sally Ball, "What to Do With Dead Birds?"

What to Do With Dead Birds?

Plate 36        Birds’ Heads        Ladakh, India

Sew a falcon’s head to a coin.
Use twine, thread it through his nostril,
and use the coin shaped like a washer—or use a washer.

Let there be feathers but no eyes,
and sever the head from the body.
You only need to keep
the very head, no neck, no wings.

If you tether it with twine
it’s easier to hold and hang, more talismanic.

What are they for?
—the duck and flycatchers, beaks larger than their brains,
the hooked pincer of the falcon?

You never know.

Even if you think you know,
chances are you don’t: these sockets,
these tattered leather edges
and soft caps—atonement never ends
in answering what you’ve done.

Plate 79        Crocodile        Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Dear Keats, why Italy?
You’d have loved this crocodile,
smiling with his eyes closed, one plunge
from the meaty neck of a gazelle.
O happy crocodile, O John,
he looked like this for centuries
before you lived and died, blissed out,
savoring his knowledge
before savoring his meat.
He looked like this when Linda took
the photograph, in 1989.
And now, too: in Egypt, in how many photographs
(of hers, of others’) reprinted in how many books,
and here, this poem, the scent of dinner
in his nostrils as he smiles,
a happy happy happy happy croc,
a wakeful, sturdy unwarnable gazelle,
who doesn’t know,
perpetually, his doom, though he’s smiling too:
a gloater? Stone gazelle.

Sally Ball is the author of Annus Mirabilis (Barrow Street, 2005). She’s associate director of Four Way Books and an assistant professor at Arizona State University. She has new work up on and received a fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts for 2011.

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