How to bury a dead bird when you have anxiety I dare you to not think of your son. How he used to smash his forehead into cement without whimper or wince or the time you tried to paint his shade of bruise on your own temple so he would not feel alone, but you mixed the colors wrong. Instead, you arranged twigs in a sea- green vase by his bed. A stone tumbled ocean-soft. You know that salt and bone broth cannot ward off dark dreams, but hold spoonfuls in your mouth anyhow. You pray for something to clamp down on. Every time you crack an egg you hum a new note because a looped song brings blood. You own a jar of teeth kept on a tall shelf. They were gifts from your ghosts. Their fine cracks and gunked fillings tell a history. Somewhere you are root. Somewhere you are a faucet dripping minor notes and bacon grease poured into a perfect moon on the lawn. And now this bird. Ungiving cold, in your hand. You could postpone, freeze it. Saran wrap it saintly. Or you can use your teeth to steady a flashlight and claw through dark, ask whatever you find beneath the ground for rest.
Winter Beach, I want to be as gothic as the ocean that backdrops rows of fancy stores where women sell half-imagined lives. I study the waves with care instead— how they swallow a surfer who leapt a swell then succumbed. A dervish of gulls bomb the surface in a feeding frenzy, a hidden school. Dolphins follow. I am trying to learn the lessons of hunger, make a camera obscura with my mouth while my son buries his legs wet in the sand, until they disappear. I chew an apple and baby- bird-it into his pleas, because swallowing would mean decorating the interior. Hanging oil paintings of patron saints in ornate frames along my ribs. And who knows how long I’ll reside here, how to spackle the holes when it’s time to leave, or how many shells I can pack into a cardboard box so he can have a something tangible from this day, reach deep against their sharpened edges, remember if I too was there.
Upon the four-year anniversary of your death Are you more tender-barefoot now or sun-chapped, a barn owl dripping feathers from a stolen nest, maybe bottle caps that glint, prong-up in the creek, with a float of storm-broke limbs? I curtesy for you. Pick you from the forest floor, let you soak in the bucket where a field mouse drowned. I skip teeth across the lake—from a jar I inherited and hid in the basement. They needed flare. They needed to be lodged in the belly of a starved fish. All gasoline scales and hook scars. Shimmery. I cut holes in my bedroom curtains to make an anthology of light. I ask the gashes questions when I get winter-lonely—at what age will I forget the jitter of your laugh? Untwine your dark strands from my fingers? So many mornings, I’ve woken to a prayer of ravens scavenging invisible sinew and I couldn’t recall if I said your name as a minor note. If you were offended, or, when I painted a woman with the exact shade of lipstick you wore. Patron saint of hollows and hoof gunk, horsehair and and lace. I’ve seen your red smeared across the teeth of wild and furred things stalked in the thicket. Snarls raised along their spines. They didn’t hurt me, even when I sang and my throat was glutted with feathers. Mom, they were there for you—waiting to follow you home
Megan Merchant (she/her) is the co-owner of www.shiversong.com and lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ with her husband and two children. She holds an M.F.A. degree in International Creative Writing from UNLV and is the author of three full-length poetry collections with Glass Lyre Press: Gravel Ghosts (2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award), Grief Flowers (2018), four chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books). Her latest book, Before the Fevered Snow, was released in April 2020 with Stillhouse Press ( NYT New & Noteworthy). She was awarded the 2016-2017 COG Literary Award, judged by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2018 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, second place in the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and most recently the Inaugural Michelle Boisseau Prize. She is the Editor of Pirene’s Fountain. You can find her poetry and artwork at meganmerchant.wix.com/poet.