The Weight of the Birds

— For James Tate

I have a friend named Harry who decided to kill himself.
“I’ve decided to kill myself,” he said. “You did?” I said,
“That’s a big decision.” “Not really,” he said, “when you know,
you just know.” So I asked Harry if he had settled on how he was
going to do it. “I’m going with old faithful,” he said, “gun to the head.”
“That certainly is effective Harry,” I said. “Yes, I agree.” he said.
So I asked him when he was planning on doing it and if he’d like me
to come along for support. The thing about my friend Harry is he’s
a real loner and I didn’t think he’d want me there for something so
personal, but I offered anyway out of respect. I was surprised when
he accepted, and quite honored. So that evening over dinner
we made plans for when and where his suicide would take place.
It was clear that Harry didn’t want to wait much longer, so we settled
on first thing the next morning near the lake behind my house.
There was a buzz of electricity in the air and we both had great
difficulty falling asleep that night. When I did sleep, I had a dream
that I was Major Tom from the Bowie song and I was floating above
the Earth, raising my fists to the heavens. We woke early and headed
out to the lake. Harry brought along the weapon. I can’t say what it was
specifically, because I have never been a gun person, but it was silver
with a wooden handle. “This is it,” Harry said when we approached the
lake. “Yes, Harry I suppose it is,” I said. I leaned in and gave him a big
hug and thanked him for being such a good friend all these years. There
were no tears because of the new law about that, and you never knew
when they might be watching. He lifted the gun and positioned the end
of the barrel just above his left ear. I took a few steps back and smiled
encouragingly, then he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.
When the shot rang out, hundreds of birds perched in the Poplars
around the lake bolted to the sky and the trees took a deep breath,
relieved of the weight of all those birds.


I like martinis. I think a country should be named
Martini. I think all the rivers in this country
should be filled with vodka and all the airplanes
that fly over the country should be required by law
to drop olives from the sky.

The children would be shaped like miniature
swords and the women would be made of
glass. In this country beer would be tied to
wooden stakes and burned in the streets.

The national anthem would be “Sway” by Dean Martin.
I would be king of this country.
I would be queen of this country too.

There would be no men and the women would
reproduce without them. I’d be the only man.
Except on days when I am queen.


I drove to Ojai and stayed at a lodge.
There was murder in my room.
The wooden bed was full of murder.
It was drunk on murder cocktails.

Even the wooden walls were murderous and violent.
The rug had a PhD in murder.
The rug graduated at the top of its class
in Murderology.

There was violence and murder all over the room.
Great hulking haystacks of murder.
A museum filled with paintings of haystacks
in painted fields. All those brutish bailed stacks
of hay in all those painted fields.

Like thousands of slaughtered American buffalo
on the grasslands of old Wyoming.

I was too afraid to go in the shower that night.
I lay on the drunk bed on top of the covers
and slept in my clothes.
I didn’t want to get murdered.

It was a cold night and I kept waking up
every hour or so. The murdered bodies
were tapping me on the shoulder.
Then when I fell asleep they waited
an hour before waking me again.

Getting back to sleep was not easy
with all those slaughtered buffalo staring at me
with their helpless eyes.

It was like bailing hay with broken fingers.
Morning came eventually and I got up
and out of there fast.

“Goodbye room,” I said.

Even though it was a murderous night,
I felt sad leaving the room.

All that ancient wood and desperation.

I looked into the room before I left
with sadness in my heart.

I felt as if we had shared a violent night
together and I realized I hadn’t felt
so alive in years.

First published in Forklift, Ohio Issue #33 (Fall 2016)

Olive Oil

The toast would taste better with egg, but there aren’t any,
so I pour a thimble-sized serving of olive oil on, to make it more

flavorful. I like the taste of olive oil. It reminds me of the time
when I was eighteen and jumped clear over the hood of my car

because I could. To be more specific, olive oil is the part where
I leave the ground and I’m in the air, halfway across. Right then,

before landing on the other side. That’s the taste of olive oil.
It also tastes the way Madagascar sounds when you say it

backwards. If there were olive oil cologne, I would wear it and if
there were olive oil goldfish, I would have two in a bowl on the

table. For some reason, it is also a man swallowing lighter
fluid because the pain in his belly is bigger than the Kalahari

Desert. But maybe that’s only when you drink it straight; and
sometimes it tastes like Brigitte Bardot. To be more specific,

in the scene where she is sunning naked in Capri, an impossibly
blue ocean wrestling with the sky in the distance.

First published in Rattle, Volume 10, Number 1, Summer 2004


Emily has many toys. Most are plastic. Some are made of
wood. Her favorite is the plastic pond with wooden
fish. Sometimes Emily pretends she is a burning house.

Emily has a friend named Ben. One day when she was
being a house, burning; Ben rushed in, grabbed
her plastic watering can and poured the wooden water
onto the house.

He saved her life and she was very grateful. She rewarded
him with a kiss on the cheek. Ben blushed, “Oh Emily,
that isn’t necessary.” he responded. “But you’re sweet,
Ben,” she said, “you saved my life.”

The next day, Emily was in the garden, pretending to be
a surgeon. She was cutting open her wooden doll
with a plastic knife. She removed the doll’s wooden
heart and ate it. “Tasty,” she told Ben who was
sitting beside her watching. “Want some?” she asked.

“No thanks,” said Ben. “I’m not very hungry.”
Then she pretended to be a house again, burning. This time
Ben just watched her burn until Emily was a pile of dark ash
on the grass beside her wooden doll without a heart.


At this height the patchwork of fields look more
like a quilt than vineyards and mulberry groves.

The Verdon River flowing through the middle
adds motion to the illusion of flight.

According to the birdwatchers guide on the nightstand,
the Mandarin duck is the most ornate and beautiful
of all birds. It has a prominent crest on its head,
golden hackles and a pair of bright yellow feathers
on each inner wing. It feeds on seeds and nuts.

Watching you sleep, I consider how many times
in the last eight minutes the words Mandarin Duck have
been uttered across the globe. If I knew this, I’d multiply
it by the number of gondolas in Venice at noon on a
Sunday and then again by the different positions into which
you can bend a wooden artist’s mannequin;
and as I travel from the sparseness of this bedroom
over fields and rivers to the curved plateau of your
lower back, I cannot help but stumble through the
math to this formula for how I love you.

First published in Artlife, Vol.25 #4, Issue #269