Twin Bill

By Peter Swanson
The Thirty-Nine Steps

Most live lives of half-remembering;
They blur through days of flaring thought
Then fall asleep with less than everything
They’ve learned. A rolling death. A burning-out.

But not me. What burns the brightest
Won’t blaze away. I am animate with facts.
How far from Montreal to Winnipeg. Full list
Of Aintree mares. The origin of Devil’s Flax.

My mind should feel too full, a sticky nest
Of spiderlings all struggling to live.
I will admit, it does at times. I gaze,

As we all do, at that better place
Where, like water through a sieve,
I’ll shed the swollen years, the heaving days.

The Birds

Now they make me say their names out loud.
The royal tern. The western grebe. The ruff.
The hook-billed kite. The rusty blackbird.
The tufted duck. It’s not enough,

They say, to only know each proper name.
Too soon they’ll make me go outdoors.
How often can they pick me clean,
I ask this multitude of doctors.

Whimbrel. Swan. Merganser. Teal.
Thrasher. Veery. Pygmy-owl.
The lesser scaup and common goldeneye.

They say what happened wasn’t real.
They tell me many names of gulls.
They preen and barely look me in the eye.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/08/twin-bill/308566/