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Matryoshka

 

This doll, painted
              to resemble a peasant woman,
                         has blue eyes,

 

do-a-dot pink cheeks, and is
             wearing trumpet bell-shaped
                          poppies instead

 

of a sarafan. I read about
             the morphology of the red
                          poppy, a process so

 

abrupt that a calyx seems to lose
             its identity at once, as it has
                          here, in the outer-

 

most doll: only the leaves can be
             called the calyx. But we can
                          go back: the buds

 

of her breasts are not so easily
             lost. Designed to nest,
                          the matryoshka doll

 

splits, top from bottom, to reveal
             another figure from the same
                          stripped block of balsa.

 

The eye color goes—the lower
             lashes disperse like shavings. 
                          Poppies fold into

 

themselves—how small
             can they get?  The inner-
                          most doll is like the calyx:

 

not the green leafy top,
             but the whole straw-
                          berry.

 

 

 


Download poem audio in .mp3 format.

Bird for Bird

 

Flash of blue: the jay, what color
blue was that; or should I ask

what color the late summer
sky was: azure-stone, lapis-

lazuli, or cerulean gets me one
step closer, but the bird hides

itself. If only one could study
the jay as it is, but acting like

the killdeer, who offers itself
in place of its shallow clutch:

watch me drag my fake broken
wing
. And then be open

to the suggestion that watching
it come undone is appetizing

enough (look how the killdeer’s
copper rump is uncovered by

coverts) to believe that ivory-
black splattered eggs are stones.

 

 

 


Download poem audio in .mp3 format.

Constructing Audubon’s The Birds of America

 

The first time he stooped
              to observe a specimen of

 

American robin, or migratory
             thrush, in the lower half

 

of a Prunus caroliniana, Audubon
             had left his rifle at home.

 

He took notes: the female was gray-
             headed and occupied

 

with breakfast; her breast was a
             duller orange than the dark-

 

headed male’s, and their un-
             fledged young were white-

 

throated. But instead of describing
             how the male’s tail fanned

 

when he dropped down to feed
             chicks meant to be kept hidden,

 

Audubon wrote star top, column.
             He marked an x on his map,

 

left for his gun, and went back.
             He wouldn’t get any closer than

 

he already had while they were still
             living. Since failing to coax

 

uncountable birds to alight on his
             fingers, he’d discovered

 

the slightly protuberant bill at first
             dusky, ultimately pure yellow.  

 

 

 


Beth McDermott is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, The Literary Bohemian, Harpur Palate, and Southern Humanities Review.

American Robin, Plate 131 from Audubon’s Birds of America (1827), by John James Audubon, courtesy Oppenheimer Gallery at Audubon Greenwich.

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