By Javen Tanner



After Czeslaw Milosz and Philip Levine


Keep your focus on the woman speaking to you. Do not let your attention

be drawn to the three magpies fighting for bread under the lamp post––

one for royalty, one for deity, one for death.


If it helps, let the woman’s teeth turn to starlight, let her tongue

become the pleasurable worm of the open road.

When others join the conversation, let them derive laughter


from a pharisaical observance of scorn for the letter of the law.

Let them nod their L-shaped arms for a drink, and quote their favorite satirists

through their noses as if sniffing for a bitch in heat.




In the fullness of time, arrive at your house. Pause at the door,

saying “Please, God, this sham, I can’t . . .” God will not answer.

But listen to the unwatched television inside saying,


“For a limited time only . . .” Let this bring hope. Let this bring the magpies

to the window. They have come bearing gifts. They have come

with glad tidings in the form of a memory.




At the age of twelve you shot a magpie

sitting on a wire. The pellet hit

with the sound of a single raindrop,


the limp wings snagged the breeze,

and the bird fell in a nauseous fit.

Immediately, other magpies swooped


and screamed, a circle of clamor

closing on its center.

You thought they rushed to help


their fallen clone. Instead, they began

to feast, to strip the breast feathers

from cooling meat and bone.


What good came of your scattering them

from their victim? Your victim.

You stood there, a weeping child


keeping guard over a dead bird,

trying to understand the meaning:

Do unto others as you have done unto others.




Enough. Lock the doors. Check them again. Check the windows.

Turn out the lights. Consider using them to find your way through the house.

Don’t. Do the work of the blind and find your way in the dark.


Stop at each room. Listen to the children sleeping. As the snow begins to fall,

let them dream of your great grandmother and her long braids––

how she wove them into blankets for warmth with her graying teeth.




Now, stop at your room. Let your wife sit and stare at the other side

of the door, still as a Hopper painting. Almost whisper,

“We can heal. I believe we can heal.


I believe the soil is alive with small fists waiting to break

the surface, waiting to crack their knuckles open

like daisies grabbing for daylight.”




But not tonight. Walk away. Walk out into the snowfall.

Leave the door open behind you. Kneel there in the garden.

Let each flake mark the return of a failed supplication––


each one a broken blessing on your head. And let that be enough:

you and you, holy of holies, alone now in the ice and silence,

with a handful of black feathers and your vengeful God.