Poem of the Week | September 21, 2015

This week we offer a new poem by Calvin Olsen. Olsen holds an MFA from Boston University, where he received a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship. His poetry and translations have appeared in Nashville Review, Catch & Release, Gravel, The Interpreter’s House, Salamander, and Lay Bare the Canvas: New England Poets on Art, among many others. His current projects include a book-length manuscript, a translation of the collected works of Alberto de Lacerda, and an extensive undertaking at tenthousandhaiku.com. He lives and teaches in Boston.
Author’s note:

This poem’s impetus (for lack of a fancier word) came from time I spent in the art studio of Adrienne Stein while we collaborated on a project at Boston University. My favorite of Adrienne’s paintings features a white owl, and an earlier version of the poem was solely about that bird and its effect on the work. A year or two later I sat in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and watched a video of and owl flying in slow motion which sent me back through all my memories of owls. I dissected owl pellets in third grade, camping trips as a teenager in Idaho offered more than one close encounter with the birds, and my wife and I wake up to an owl hooting outside our window every morning here in Massachusetts. All of this factors into the poem in my mind: the owl is a conglomerate of all the owls I have come into contact with, and the place he ends up at the end of the poem is a romanticized version of the small barn/large shed at my parents’ home. I’ve attempted to shape the poem to allow the reader to see the owl as I do: wild, enticing, and more than a little intimidating—a lot like taking a good look at yourself.




The owl’s eyes are perfect
circles the color of hay
almost ready for harvest
but backlit. The owl’s wings
seem longer than they are,
tilted for a banking left
the end of which will draw
up and flutter onto the fence post,
claws out at the last moment—
they displace so much
air it pushes against you
like a hand. The owl lives
in the attic, not asking invitation,
asking entrance. The sun sets
and there he is, crumpled
into his own body: the world below
his perch is full of unsurprising things
and all the tiny little bones
he’s never allowed into himself
clenched in brittle fists.