* * *
The bird is spattered with sand. Its long feathers glisten
with damp and keratin. The body is still
a snowy white, its wings a delicate shade of gray.
The eyes are beads of pitch in an exquisite skull
it would be simple to crush.
But I see no blood and the bird looks whole—
not a fracture or scar ruins the picture.
There is no sign of what tore
this seagull from the sky and towed it into the waves.
No smell of decay cuts the cold air.
A flawless corpse. I lean over
the unmoving form.
I would like to touch it.
Instead, I thank the tide for bringing me
this thing that was once an animal
this proof of a pristine death.
* * *
The Feast of Ravens
Foul air, ancient oaks, knotted branches warding off blue sky.
A monstrous unkindess
of ravens. A marble staircase—cesspool at its feet.
Bare branches smothered in rippling black leaves. White stone gleaming.
A man collapsed on top of the steps is sinking a pale hand into his throat
pulling out sodden black feathers.
Then the tip of an ebony beak glistens in half-light.
He pitches it away.
It strikes a gnarled branch. Lurches into the cesspool.
Ravens shriek so he is still until the last bird falls quiet. Then spits
shards of beak to the forest floor.
His throat is rasped raw. The air cloying. He looks at the cesspool
and ravens begin to beat their wings
disturb dank air.
He drags himself down the stairs—garish streak behind him—
plunges his head into tepid filth and swallows.
Beady eyes, keratin, slivers of hollowed bone.
Ravens rise from myriad branches.
The pool pulls his bulk beneath the surface.
* * *
The mourning dove waits in his nest
a tumbleweed of twigs
resting on the mottled branch of a sycamore.
Stars long ready for sleep are beginning to fade
and a warm wind whispering secrets
through the tree’s wide green leaves.
The sigh of swaying branches
is soon joined by shrill chirps from a robin waking
to a sky splashed columbine pink.
The dove is waiting on the soft rustling
of dappled brown
feathers. He is beginning to grow anxious.
A muted orange sun peeks above the horizon
and the dove is startled
when the sound of beating wings erupts
above him. A streak of red bursts
into the air. The robin vanishes as the wind
courses down the white trunk
ripples the long grass before drifting
away. The branches grow still and silence
wraps around the sycamore.
No slender figure full of apologies is flying
towards the tree. Only clouds—
white daubs against the brightening sky—
The mourning dove opens his beak
breaks the unwelcome quiet
with his lament.
* * *
The Bird in My Heart Was Frightened
a found poem: Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
I ran like thrown light over the fixed earth
my legs quivering, my heart moving faster and faster.
I ran over pink geraniums. I saw green leaves
ripple on a still branch. I dashed past
the nest in the hedge with its dead bird and mold.
I cried and went on running.
I thought of nothing but moving, moving.
* * *
Nazifa Islam grew up in Novi, Michigan. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, Gulf Coast, The Believer, and Beloit Poetry Journal among other publications, and her poetry collection Searching for a Pulse (2013) was released by Whitepoint Press. She earned her MFA at Oregon State University. You can find her @nafoopal.
featured artwork: “#58” by Nazifa Islam