30/30 #?, Karen’s Pick

Sorry for the delay in 30/30 picks. Touring leads to unpredictable email time.

Today’s poem comes from the Chicago/NYC/Chicago poet Marty McConnell. A notable force in poetry, Marty has been widely published in anthologies, appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and co-founded the performance troupe The Morrigan. This poem came after a conversation Marty and I had while I was on tour in Chicago. It means a lot to me personally and I find it to be delicately and honestly crafted. I hope you enjoy it.

were it not for the birds

I would tell you how last night
in talking about our friend
who died this year and another

diagnosed immediately after
with a different but equally
advanced cancer and another

known only to one of us but
also around our age, but this one
with an autistic son, we discussed

how if our friends were overdosing
or contracting avoidable if fatal
diseases, we would consider it

tragic and awful certainly
we would grieve in no
smaller measure but could

countenance it to the lives we opt
to lead, to our collective crazy, could
count it the cost of existences that insist

on chewing through the days like asphalt,
but this – to be drawn like cards, like some
cosmic shell game where under one

hollowed walnut is a quarter, under
the other, a coffin… we want death
to be fair. to be apportioned away

from the brave and low-paid strivers,
our friends who pull their honest bones out
for display and it is not tawdry. it is not

tragedy. what I mean to say is, we talked
about how the birds in the book I was working on
all turned into the initial of our missing friend, some

technological echo she would have known how
to muster, what we didn’t say is, given this,
do you think I’m next. is there a riddle

my spine can’t solve growing
along the nerves, is the ache
in my writing hands a signal

of marrow on the verge of collapse, what
do we make of all this. how do we get
the birds to come back.

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