THREE POEMS BY BRENDA COULTAS
An Early Alphabet
Puritans, Hillbillies, Yankees, Iroquois, Confederates, and Krauts—that’s who
Put in a bird, any bird, even an ugly one, a crow for example
or mention bird anatomy
a wing or feather give it a color
put in a bird, make it fly, let it eat
build a nest
add any bird.
Mention a bird skeleton so delicate and light it flies
mention an egg
mention a bird song
mention a bird’s cry
mention a raven’s beak boiled
please mention that hair black as the raven’s wing I carry in my mouth.
A flock of turkey buzzards, their heads are all red comb, and the bodies. The
ugliest birds I’d ever seen. All my life I’d seen them in the sky, circling. Never on
the ground. I was 38.
I learned to write so I could describe the world
the birdhouse is empty
say something beautiful about it.
I needed a stick for guidance. Navigation is important for getting a girl over the
seas. I had carried my branch since I was a child, needing it in these Americas.
In my hand, a many-branched olive tree, of thee I sang, of Christ who kneeled
I had a war. Inside, all my channels were turned to one station.
I afeared that war, it made a wall of wreaths, ribbons, quilts.
It took organs and bloods.
It took trees.
It left cancers and bones.
Soldiers came back to America, back to me as small flags.
I was scared.
In my palm, tiny boats floated.
Across my fingertips tiny boats sailed.
Many things fall from the sky.
A jet has a big body.
It’s long and heavy and made of metal and plastic.
Robert went into a tunnel of homelessness.
They were having lots of sex—all kinds.
It was dark but he could see in glimpses.
A woman emerged, beautiful. Herself stank.
I ate the box.
It went down, stayed inside, and made notes on all our speeches.
I have the entire transcript of our social intercourse.
Extracting the boxes from the ocean floor is difficult.
The conversations of fishes and marine life are indecipherable
as they do not have an alphabet.
*all from A Handmade Museum, Coffee House Press, 2003.