by Randel McCraw Helms
“A poem should always have birds in it,”
Said Mary Oliver, even if it’s only
Vultures, lice-filled, drifting down naked-necked
Toward a thing maggoted and softly swelling.
There, you should approach oblique, downwind;
The quarry is shy. Set aside what you’ve been told,
What they do is cleansing, sacred, reducing
Merest carrion to enriching soil of dung.
Or else watch, if you must, white, nesting swans
Delight among reeds, mid-river, safely islanded,
Awaiting downy cygnets. But why, I ask,
Do you think these the more beautiful?
Randel McCraw Helms is retired from Arizona State University’s English Department. Making poems is his lifelong vice, and his recent work has appeared in such places as Blood & Bourbon, Dappled Things, and Silkworm.