Poem of the Week | August 21, 2017

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Alison C. Rollins, born and raised in St. Louis, currently works as the Librarian for Nerinx Hall. She is the second prizewinner of the 2016 James H. Nash Poetry contest and a finalist for the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Meridian, The Offing, Poetry, The Poetry Review, River Styx, Solstice, TriQuarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Vinyl, and elsewhere. A Cave Canem and Callaloo Fellow, she is also a 2016 recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Learn more at her website.

Character Building


I watched the black ants line the rib cage of a baby bird
fallen from its nest. The formation of their hyphenated
bodies a relief painting, an insinuation of ivory smiles.


How can the dissonance be measured, between the story
that we tell ourselves and the one we come to believe?
Christopher Columbus could stand an egg upright


on a table just as I can float on my belly or my back
depending on the company. Just say that the River turns,
and turn the River. For what it’s worth, the value of


an object requires a continual investment.


                                                      The ants carry meaning
on their backs. Alphabetize themselves in a carcass of
innocence. A little brown ghost chirps a stalwart moan.


The imprint of the bird leaves the sketch of a musical score.
The tune of unslinging a wing from the air. High notes hit
when undressing the soft sky, a scaffold architecture of hope.


Animals of little faith eat seeds from the feeders of gods.
This world a setup for failure. The tragic flaw to go out on
a limb. The irony the way the life will float up from the body
like a toothless woman’s mute whistle. A feather in the wind.


A plume to save face when deflowered, for after you have
grown into your success. Somewhere a bird tweets frantically,
whatever happened to childhood? What exactly is the need for the hurry?


My dog licks the salt from my steeple legs. We continue our
walk more briskly. We have learned through trial and error,


even our teeth—still waiting for god to tell them what to do.


Author’s Note:

I wrote this poem after a neighborhood walk with my dog, during which he had wandered away from me to sniff the carcass of a decomposing bird. With the dog and I staring at the bird in the grass, I wondered or rather tried to understand how the baby bird had died. I was curious about my need to give the dead bird meaning. This poem grapples with this desire for an underlying truth, even if the truth is constructed in a self-serving/self-soothing fashion. Borrowing the line, “Say that the River turns, and turn the River” from Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Sermon on the Warpland,” this poem interrogates a faith in language to change or manipulate the course of events in relationship to our understanding of the life cycle. The poem explores the way the power of language itself functions as a historical belief system or architecture of identity. Ultimately, it begs the questions: What does it mean to build character or grow into a life? How much control does one have regarding their future? What losses can we withstand?