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  • A Spectacular Reformation of Their Old Ways
  • Miriam Bird Greenberg (bio)

They’ve gone down to Honey Grove, are living    in an abandoned house. One of them’s strung up a wire

spliced into the electric line, and the lights flicker    all night like heat lightning, like angels

playing a trick. They have a few plates, drink    from mason jar mugs, it’s not for long, they know,

but this is downright civilized: breakfast at a table    with a bedsheet for tablecloth, a spectacular reformation

of their old ways. On the falling-in porch    with moth-shadows swimming on their faces

they wonder aloud what happened to the old white man    at the Salvation Army lunch up in Idaho

who could speak to space aliens. He stayed    on Blackfoot land, but spent the week in town

begging day-old pastries from bakeries    to dole out to the dentists who’d pro bonoed

his gold teeth inlaid with rubies. He’d told them,    Why didn’t they settle down, get jobs at Walmart,

start a family? Here’s as nice a place    as any, he’d said, handing them a sheaf of newspaper

clippings, documents of his fame    and fortune. They’d hung around the library all day

chasing off patrons with their unlaced shoes souring    the air, slept in a doorway and dreamt [End Page 63]

of sparkling cities. The flickering heavens    reeled one innumerable self after another

past their closed eyes, but lo, they never learn. At dawn    again they were cadging coffee, then kicking moss

on the shoulder of the highway    with their thumbs out; but—Oh, Spain. They had a book

with pictures of Sevilla, the Alhambra,    the Canary Islands—it was stamped pocatello

public library, and soon they’d lay eyes on those sparkling    shores, birds yellow as the sunlight one of them said

dreamily—but no, said the other, it was dogs,    loping black dogs the Spaniards had meant,

and they howled their consternation like men    all night at the invaders. [End Page 64]

Miriam Bird Greenberg

The recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship, MIRIAM BIRD GREENBERG is currently working on an ethnographically derived poetry project about economic migrants living in Hong Kong. Her book In the Volcano’s Mouth won the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and has just been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.*



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pp. 63-64
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