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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 46-49

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Explanations, and: Cardinal Cardinal, and: At his House


When I learned that an airplane flying low
over a silver fox farm caused some vixens
to eat their young, I found myself nodding
dumbly, thinking yes, mother stuff, protective,
like that woman who saved her children
from Satan by drowning them in the tub.
Reminded me also of an article I'd read
about a deaf turkey hen who pecked to death
her chicks. Turkey hens, it said,
can only recognize progeny by their cries.

I thought: how unlucky we humans are,
doomed to know what we've done. But no,

the woman who kept her child in a closet
just wanted him to be a good boy, she said,
quiet among her skirts and her shoes.
And a man I know – after his wife said hello –
tore their entire house apart. Wouldn't
apologize, didn't know why he should.
Pressures of his job, he explained, deaf
in a way, unreachable, like serial killer
John Wayne Gacy who couldn't hear himself
when he said, "Why would I want to kill
those boys, anyway? I'm not their father." [End Page 46]

Cardinal Cardinal

You're a male attacking the window
where your rival appears, dangerous
and familiar. You know exactly
what that bird has in mind.
Important, therefore, to defeat it

but you have a brain no bigger
than your enemy's. The odds
are against you, as they were
when the female was given all that
quiet beauty. You're bright red,

as is the bird you attack, and anyone
who's ever been loud and horny
understands the problem. Nothing
is likely to happen if you go on like this
unless suddenly you're frightened into sense,

which is exactly what occurs, but by then
your beak is sore, and your friends
are formulating an owl decal joke
at your expense, the owl decal on the window
that has sent you back to the trees

where you have to please the subtle
brown thing with qualities you're not sure
you have. Tell us about the ceremony –
the seed you bring to her like a kiss,
the delicacy with which she accepts it. [End Page 47]

At his House

In my friend's face it's not easy to separate
what's serenity, what's despair.
What the mouth suggests the eyes correct,

and what looks like acceptance
is a kind of détente, the world allowed
to encroach only so far.

At his house, we put aside
the large questions: Is there? And if so?
replace them with simple chores.

We bring vegetables in from the garden.
We shuck corn. Is it possible
to be a good citizen without saying a word?

Both his wives thought not, wanted love
to have a language he never learned.
He'd make wine for them from dandelions.

Sundays he'd serve them breakfast in bed.
In his toolbox he was sure he had a tool
for whatever needed to be fixed.

The deed reveals the man, he says.
I don't tell him that it's behind deeds
he and I often hide.

I've got a face for noon, a face for dusk,
a fact he lets slide. Both of us think friendship
is about what needn't be said. [End Page 48]

It seems we're a couple of halves, men
almost here, hardly there. At his house less
feels good. I always come back for more.

Stephen Dunn has published thirteen collections of poetry, including Different Hours, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. His poems in this issue are from his new collection, Everything Else in the World, coming from W. W. Norton this fall.



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