Craig Beaven


(after the painting by Ross Bleckner)

The magic that pins them to the sky
dies out, old orders collapse, birds
all night in waves, cracking windshields,
filling gutters: everyone looks up with fear:

Specks growing larger
on the way down, blood burst cloud
drifting out. And the light that reveals them
as they plummet from above the city

is our own blue glow, casting them
beautiful in their sudden drop
and forms. We know the army helicopter
rolling over sky like a body

in sleep, touching grass,
flame that blossoms out
like flowers from the magician's sleeve,
men consumed on their way

to war: black missiles screaming
into their fall, planes chattering
dark bullets into an earth
glowing jaundiced in rubber goggles,

or: the factory parking lot strewn
with birds in broken heaps, sky
mud behind smokestack clouds, workers
filing in as the whistle blows.

Or: myself as a child, walking in rain,
blue lightning flash, the smoking bird
that fell at my feet, wings extended,
shiny glass eye cocked to the horizon.



My wife and I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in January, 2003, on a day that coincided with the largest war protest ever held on the National Mall. A week later, the space shuttle Columbia exploded above Texas as it reentered the earth's atmosphere. In these contexts I became haunted by the Bleckner painting that hangs at the National Gallery. The image of birds falling from the sky—for no apparent reason—seemed terrifying and real, prophetic and timeless.