after Kara Walker


An angel stands in a bowl of ice,

the birds that bathed around her

absent now or tucked together under eaves.


Because it is December in Virginia,

some oaks are studded with mistletoe

you can see if you see it

from a distance, shape-shifting,

clusters backlit by slanted light.


One tree is dying of it

behind the reconstructed gallows

where we give our children history lessons.


I dream of shooting some down

with one of my father’s many guns,

a great big crown of white berries

and leaves so green they are black.


Advent calendar doors swing open.


A stray shows up at my mother’s house,

a head-shy pit the men,

who will not allow her to keep it,

run off, vowing worse if it returns.


Perhaps it is better to let it starve,

belly full of worms and boot-cap bruises.


Pit mixes are put down quickly at the pound.


Is there an incinerator?


A truck dumping broad-jawed mutts,

limp as quilts, into the landfill?


My cousin once bought a stripper he loved

a cockatiel, its feathers the pale yellow

of old-fashioned layettes.


I hope that bird is still alive somewhere,

having been sold and resold

the way the gold we wear today

could have once been a medallion

on Montezuma’s chest,

outliving us all, outliving the links

in that girl’s belly-chain

and everyone tamed by Suboxone,

our bodily miasma contained

by an orderly world, a last dignity

we won’t give a damn about.