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Kirsten Casey: California Poets Part 6, Three Poems

Kirsten Casey

October 18th, 2023

California Poets: Part VI

Kirsten Casey

Three Poems

John James Audobon Defends His Vocation

This barking owl doesn’t really bark, although it clings to the wooden skin of the high fir tree. It is asking a question of identity without a question mark. I have divided the hide from the body and covered carefully the holes of buckshot to allow these birds to live in positions usually not reserved for the dead. Permanently soaring, thanks to wire and countless hours of watching the simple act of flight—wings outstretched, feathers spread, beaks raised, talons withdrawn. This little wattlebird could never be mistaken for a spangled drongo. I am among the few who know these uncommon names, and the frenzy I feel below a migrating flock of common geese is not shared by many. To explain the thrill of discovering a new species, of watching a specimen succumb and turn limp, although still warm in my hands, is to, over and over again, discover beauty, and then keep it. Through metal plates etched with acid, and hundreds of hours of hand coloring, every one of them is still alive. Little button quail, I am sorry, but my affinity for birds was the end of you. I would rather not think of your grape-sized spotted eggs, left alone in some nest, threaded with horse hair and sea grass. Those chicks will never know that this is for the best. The only way to be remembered in history is to die, even if you are only a bird.

Emily Dickinson is Ghosted on Bumble

Saying nothing sometimes says the most

Am I a fool to start this conversation? The day is twenty four hours, that is how many counted sighs? And my screen lacks response, my heart, a blackbird riddled with stray shots, its red soaked wings still struggling to fly. Was I not to swipe each suitor, was I to deny any potential, and in doing so deprive myself of opportunities to love another? And what of my messages, too forward? Too vague? Maybe it is my profile portrait, unflattering black and white, that severe middle part, and my countenance—a scowl? Should they not take me seriously? A smile foretells whimsy, a weakness in romance. And so I texted, “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven,” to the doctor with the whitest teeth, a sign of splendid health. Perhaps not an aviary lover. And I wrote, “I am nobody! Who are you? Are you a nobody too?” to the mandolin musician, his face hidden behind a waxy moustache. He seemed a nobody, was I wrong to address this? And to the novelist, with the green eyes, and the fading scar above his lip, I wrote, I am out with the lanterns, looking for myself.” A man of letters, did he misinterpret this as an inappropriate metaphor? Still, I sit in the lamplight of my white walled attic, scrolling and scrolling, in a rhythm like a painter’s repeated brushstrokes, covering his mistakes. If never answered, all that I wish for is to be noticed, if only for the arrangement of my words.

A Funeral in my Brain

(after Emily Dickinson)

The reserved parking space at the cemetery lot, has orange cones in shapes of simple, paper party hats. The mourners can’t be bothered with looking for a convenient spot. No one wants to parallel park while sobbing. The hearse driver’s left ear is pierced with a tiny silver cross, a tinier Jesus hangs there, forever crucified. Waiting for the rest of the procession, he remembers the undertaker telling him a brain weighs around three pounds. Funerals are full of minor characters. The box in the back is mahogany, too heavy to slide, and its tenant is a dead stranger. This thought makes the driver numb, and the silence between him and the passenger is like the sound of his grandpa’s work boots, no longer used, but still on the mudroom shelf at home. There is no way left for them to connect, no bell wakes him at dawn for a hot shower and a thermos of coffee. There is no creak on the stairs, and his old dog’s paws don’t climb to sleep in the sun at the top of the steps. Everyone is a mourner. Even the birds circling the graves know grief: broken eggs, dead mates, fallen nests; they have called out in soft, newly composed songs of remembering and forgetting, they plunge their beaks into the recently turned soil, sensing the warm worms in their beaks are tasty with memories, laden with loss.

Author Bio:

Kirsten Casey is a California Poet in the Schools, creative writing teacher, and the current poet laureate of Nevada County. Her poetry collection, Ex Vivo: Out of the Living Body, published by Hip Pocket Press in 2012, is inspired by odd stories, remarkable words, and the mysteries of the human body. Her second book of poetry, (with the working title Grieving Birds,) explores historical and literary characters struggling with social media, and the common grief of animals and people. In 2019, she taught high school workshops as part of the Academy of American Poets Laureate fellowship granted to Molly Fisk, to facilitate the poetry anthology, California Fire & Water, which responds to California’s climate crisis. She was a co-editor of the book, which includes one of her poems. Currently, she is an associate editor of the book Small, Bright Things, a collection of 100-word stories by teens, with author and editor, Kim Culbertson. She has lived in Nevada City for 30 years with her husband, and has three children in their twenties, who patiently assist her with technology.


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