Dear Denise Duhamel—
What is it that boils kettles of red-tailed hawks in the blue ceiling of summer sky? Today, there is an animal presence somewhere at our feet—we sense it before we see it. Birdshit on garbage cans. Must be swallows nesting in the eaves. Then, the children spot a fallen chick: half–molted and desperate. Don’t touch it. I warn until they back away, go in the house. Too hot to think. I long for descent into the redwood shade and dappled creek, so I tell the kids go watch T.V. and take the trash cans down our long, hot driveway. The cans roll large and loud, popping gravel. At the bottom, shade spills relief. The creek trees rustle with animal movement. How do I know how large their bodies are just by the sound? Is it fear that tethers us in its wake?
Days like this I feel like a Russian doll: a body carved inside a body. At 22, my girlfriends and I saw a display of middle-aged Barbies at The Body Shop on 17th Avenue in New York. Their plastic bodies had been altered so that they were thick-waisted and C-section scarred. We laughed on stick legs. We spoke in light, hot breath about how bold the display. Our hearts were still red hummingbirds flying in our chests. Yesterday, I read that Dodo birds swallowed large stones to help them digest, and laughed at how this makes me think only of their disappearance. Women condemned by the Vikings were also made to swallow stones—so many they sunk into the bogs of Schleswig-Holstein. How some were found centuries later—their skin still intact, their red shocks of hair screaming from behind the museum glass. Perhaps, those were only stones the Barbie contained.
Today what I fear most—what boils in kettles of birds, what crouches and flees from the lean of trees—is this: a fear that when we return the small bald bird will just be gone. That no one will be able to read the text of its departure.
That my body in its continual awakenings will never swallow the sense
and weight of what it contains, of what it has now, or what it will someday
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss “The Big Bang of Prose Poetry,” Carol Dorf’s introduction to prose poetry in TW.
Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s debut poetry collection, Gold Passage, will be published by Trio House Press in March 2013. Finishing Line Press published her chapbook Inheritance in 2010 and is publishing The Flying Trolley in 2013.
Dunkle’s poetry, creative nonfiction, and scholarly articles have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous publications, including Poet’s Market 2013, Crab Orchard Review, Fence, LinQ, VOLT, The Mom Egg, Sentence, Weave, Verse Wisconsin, Boxcar Poetry Review, Squaw Valley Review, Sugar House Review, and inter/rupture.
She teaches literature and writing at Sonoma State University and Napa Valley College and is on the staff of the Napa Valley Writers Conference. She resides with her family in Northern California.