The Swimming Birds
The top of the lake
Is a solid white slab
With hairline cracks.
Because of people,
Because of strolling,
The top of the lake
Roast meat on a stick,
Flipping egg pancakes,
Steamed buns the color of snow
And hot potatoes,
Which are brown loafs eaten in hand,
Until only the steaming, dirty skins
Trampled and submerged,
Sweet potato skins
Line the bottom of all
A hole in the ice, cleared and set apart
Sprouts a ladder.
The old men in trunks and matching caps
Their fleshy stomachs curling in the cold.
A crowd gathers.
Beijingers wrapped up in leather coats, plastic earmuffs.
In high heeled boots.
The first snow of the New Year.
The old men also tend the birds.
They walk them in carved wood cages,
And hang them from bare trees
Fish are sold on the street in plastic tubs.
Darting schools, they follow the same circle.
Black fins move like a young woman’s hair,
When there are no birds, no fish,
And even the small, caged rabbits
(Gifts for children)
The old men stay,
Swimming circles in the water,
Singing as they thaw,
Poem to a Bird
I found a little bird,
And I bid her come to me.
Step out from out your house, your home.
These trees, this wild grass.
Survey the land and make wind chat
As if in the presence of firsts.
You do not need to worry about finding your way back.
You have been here a thousand years.
Take care your fool heart
These sheer buckshots of meat,
Straining at the clutch
For the gas,
The open road.
Observe how quickly trees and houses pass
Their little bricks and hardened fences, their leaves.
Observe how immediate it is now noon,
Now noon again and then,
Without even meaning to—it is midnight.
Your heart is the cage in your chest,
Pounding the bone bars,
Its one simple demand:
More time locked inside.
Caroline Cooper teaches literature and writing at a public school in Harlem. A 2017 poet-in-residence at the Rivendell Writers’ Colony in Tennessee, she has published poems in Tank Magazine and The Farmer General and is at work on her first chapbook. More at carolinemcooper.wordpress.com