Thursday, September 4, 2008


Yesterday: first day of classes, waking to pull a sweatshirt on, sun gazing out from behind clouds. Students were met, though briefly, after lecture; tonight is the true test. And my first workshop with MDB, a shiver. Frisson.

We were to bring in favorite poems, and I will share one from a classmate:

Black Wings
by Robert Hill Long

I was four when they slid my uncle's iron bed
into my room and wheeled him in. Mother said

after the war his bones had all gone hollow.
I touched his arm. It was like mine, but yellow

and he smiled, too sleepy to say anything. His body
lay on a dozen pillows. I thought he was lucky

to own so many pillows and sleep all day.
Because he was a hero he was going to stay

with us. He needed peace and he needed me to be
quiet, because it wasn't for long, they told me.

At night I heard his bones. First the sheet
whispered, then they started aching and he would shout

"Black wings, black wings!" Even when I slept
down the hall between my parents, the bones kept

making that noise, but uncle's voice got smaller
and scratchier, like a baby bird's, and then farther

told me not to cry because he was dead.
He asked me if I wanted to big iron bed

and carried me down to my room to see it. The mattress
and all uncle's pillows were gone. I said yes.

That night I woke up thirsty. I would have asked
for water, but something was sitting on my chest

and when I opened my eyes uncle was staring
at me. He was very small and wasn't wearing

any clothes. His fingers were snapped sticks of chalk.
He was drawing on my chest and started to talk:

"First you say goodbye to the room, then the house,
then all the trees along the street. Then you rise--"

Everywhere he touched my chest felt like fire.
He was touching my bones. I thought they would tear

through my skin, but he said they were my wings
and would be beautiful. And he showed me his wings,

black and shiny. Then father held me
over the toilet--I was vomiting--and he

promised there was no such thing, no such thing.
When we had to move away I remember repeating

"First the room, then the house," watching them disappear
with the trees through the back window of our car.

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