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Poetry by James Reidel



Eli, Eli . . .

I posed my desk lamp in this very odd way and it would only take on this significance if I were found dead in the morning by the right person. The pose is purely unintended. My eyes smarted from the glare whenever I looked up from my book and so I found myself reading the same line over and over again, trying to make it stick long enough to get to the next line. But I just kept tripping over them as I blinked away the brightness, as though I were crushing out a cigarette. One would think I might have committed something else, say, the words to memory after repeating them so many times, as though I were preparing for a greater role than the one I have. But a desk lamp like mine—it says IKEA under the base—bears no resemblance to a mannikin. But with no little wooden arms or legs to articulate, it hardly lacks in the complex, what it can make you think with the gooseneck thrown back, the bulb projecting the halo on the ceiling, the brushed steel head crying out in agony

C. livia pontica

We know that common city pigeons home to those safe places where they can wheel around a bounty of breadcrumbs and like sustenance scattered for our pleasure or by carelessness. In city parks and squares, municipal gardens and fountains, in which they drink and bathe, wherever we congregate, so they. They home to where they can strut and preen with—what is the word?—impunity, imitate us at close quarters, wherever we congregate. Thus do they court and coo and bill—how sweet!—and then shamelessly copulate in public and sire the skies full of themselves. But whoever sees a baby pigeon? Whoever a pigeon egg? Pigeons seem to come out of nowhere, out of some hole in the air or the earth and for this reason, for their red, upturned eyes, the old wives’ tale that pigeons are the “devil’s foul” has credence. And they do tease us, for who hasn’t been a child and the dupe of that cruel game of Keep-Away pigeons play on children who would chase them? Being so well established, it would take a legion of cement and plastic owls on every pediment to exorcise pigeons from their urban haunts, every sill spiked with bared iron teeth, every monument wrapped with a menacing vizard of wire netting (such that you can barely recognize the personage underneath). Only those rarest of misfortunes inspire them with enough fear to “return from whence they came.” Imagine the horror you might feel at the rarest sight of all: one of your number unable to avoid the oncoming traffic, unable to win that game of “Chicken” that should be named for the birds that always seem to ineluctably come out the winners. Imagine a dear friend, who had perched on the wires beside you as fixedly as one bead does to the other on an abacus, crushed again and again under one tire after another into a pie of feathers baked on the asphalt during our deliriously hot summers. Imagine the sick and dying squabs in the belfry of a church, the attic of a library, fed “pigeon milk” laced with poison corn. Then might the pigeon breast of some “Moses” among them swell with enough outrage, rise up, and the flock follow for a land without promise, to the suburbs, even far out in the countryside. But there they become what they once were, devolving into rock doves (my emphasis) once more. Still, they never quite find those rocky outcrops, those safest of places and they home for what is a semblance of a natural setting, such as a cliff, an outcrop, under, say, the viaduct that crosses an abandoned railway, not far from where I write, where the rusting girders overhead are still bearded with empty nests, where the piers weep with chalk droppings. You can almost read something here in the shade, holding your handlebars, contemplating a subspecies that might be extinct now (along with its fear, its traumatic race memory). Here was a kind of deliverance from the easy life, the corruption of our city. Here sustenance fell when the trains spilled a little of their grains loads amid the ballast, between the rotting ties now piled to the side, still smelling faintly of creosote, of tar, this allegorical balm in the cool shade of the bridge.



JAMES REIDEL has published in many journals, including The New Yorker, Paris Review, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review. He is the author of two collections of verse, Jim’s Book (2014) and My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg (2006). His most recent work has appeared in Poetry, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Hawai’i Review, Outsider, Fiction Southwest, The Flexible Persona, The Wax Paper, and elsewhere—including The Best Small Fictions 2016. He is also the biographer of the poet Weldon Kees and a translator, whose latest books include Comedies by Robert Walser (2018, with Daniele Pantano), Goethe Dies (2016), a collection of short stories by Thomas Bernhard, The Collected Poems of Thomas Bernhard (2017), and A Skeleton Plays Violin (2017), book three of the Our Trakl series. In 2013, he was a James Merrill House fellow. Currently, he is preparing a collection of prose poems for publication, a biography of Manon Gropius (the daughter of Walter Gropius, Alma Mahler, and Franz Werfel), and a translation of the collected poems of Heiner Müller.

Be sure to check out this exclusive interview with James on the Orson’s Publishing blog.