Sweet Bird

By

All these vain promises on beauty jars
Somewhere with your wings on time
You must be laughing

– Joni Mitchell

When I was a kid, my mother constantly browned herself. To lay out, to become tan, to tap into the melanin-making potential of what she called her “Swedish skin,” she’d strip down to her fluorescent bikini and roll—front-to-back, back-to-front—like a cob of corn on butter. Prone on the South Carolina shore, she’d flop her wet paperback down in the sand, open her face up to ultraviolet emission, and drift in and out of sleep.

In the 1970s, white women wanted to be golden. Now my mother tells me, “All that time in the sun gave me wrinkles. You were right to stay out of it.” But when she was young, my mother never seemed to burn.

 

Today the neighbor girl I’ve heard called Monkey is sprawled on the lawn next door in her Union Jack bikini, tapping a Fanta with an orange fingernail. It’s the longest day of summer and she’s on her belly, futzing with her phone. She’s super scrawny and very white. I know she’s called Monkey because late one night my husband heard her boyfriend plop her down—drunk and drizzled in her own vomit—on their front porch and say, “It’s okay, Monkey.”

Monkey is getting red where the sun does its worst on her most tender parts. The birds and squirrels aren’t concerned about Monkey. They have their own worlds to worry about.

From Monkey’s little boombox, I hear Joni Mitchell’s song “Help Me.” It lubricates the air between lawn mowers and motorcycle motors (a gang of two hirsute dudes like to ride their dirt bikes around the block), traffic, dog barks. I start to hum along.

“Help Me” is the second track on Mitchell’s album Court and Sparka commercial success, golden and uber-California in its sound—but nowhere near the weirdness that came next.

Oh Monkey, I think to myself, how misguided you are.

 

Blue (1971) is Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece, according to some. According to others, it’s Hejira (1976). You usually come down on one side or the other. But then there are the people who say no—it’s neither; it’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975).

The Hissing of Summer Lawns isn’t exactly a confutation of Blue’s “confessional” style—but an evolution, an outgrowth, an adaptation. And it also isn’t exactly the gorgeous fuck you, the escape in honor/the honorable escape that is Hejira. It lies somewhere in the middle. The Hissing of Summer Lawns’s form is really something more like narrative poetry sung over experimental jazz, an underlying “savage servility” sliding by on the music’s lounge-y, decadent grease.

I became sophisticated when I decided I loved The Hissing of Summer Lawns best, my taste indicating a true spiritual maturation, signaling a deep and enriched strangeness in me.

Do you remember when music could do that? I do. The way I remember as punishment having to copy out The Declaration of Independence in civics class, or purchasing Blood on the Tracks at fifteen, having had some experience with blood, but little with tracks.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns is still my favorite album of Mitchell’s. The album contains two of my favorite songs—“Edith and the Kingpin” and “Sweet Bird.”

When I want to feel practiced, I put on “Edith and the Kingpin.” I sing along, slinking around the room with a glass of whisky (real or metaphorical) in my hand. When I want to feel wise, to slip toward the end of my beauty trajectory—toward something better described as handsome—I pretend to make world-weary eye contact with the Big Man, who is held by me, by my eyes.

But when I want to feel innocent in my nostalgia, sad because I’m getting older, sad because I’m slipping toward the end of my beauty trajectory—toward something better described as sad, or, more honestly, as invisible—I put on “Sweet Bird” and cry. When I want to feel more like the abandoned wife, set aside for a newer, better model, I look away from myself and sing.

You might say the songs are like two sides of the same copper-colored, 70s coin—flying ibis for heads, caged ibis for tails.

 

The fifth track on The Hissing of Summer Lawns is a song called “Shades of Scarlet Conquering,” and the fire the song references must be the fire that brought Atlanta down in 1864.

The burning of Atlanta was also the first scene shot in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind. Sets from older movies were incinerated on a Hollywood back lot as a stand-in for the city, sets from movies like The Last of the Mohicans and most famously, King Kong.

If you look closely you can see Kong’s gigantic jungle wall—like a trellis woven in flame—collapse in nearly a single, fluid motion.

Cameras had already begun to turn on the film, but David O. Selznik had yet to cast an actor to play the leading role. He’d tested scores of starlets and big Hollywood names, but no one was right. It was on the night of the Atlanta fire shoot that he first laid eyes on Vivien Leigh.

Lawrence Olivier, her husband, arranged the meeting. Legend has it that she appeared out of the billowing smoke to shake Selznik’s hand. “Hey, Genius,” Olivier was purported to say, “meet your Scarlett O’Hara.”

A little further along in time, James Baldwin will ask, “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?”

 

My mother was named for the Melanie character in Gone with the Wind. I asked her once why not Scarlett, the heroine. She said she didn’t know.

My thinking is, “Scarlett” is too vulgar. “Melanie,” on the other hand, is kind. Loyal and quiet. The absence of color. A darkness. An eradication. She gracefully segues with death, is in love with death, greets death with Victorian hospitality.

Melanie’s prefix is from the Greek melas, meaning “black.”

I remember watching Gone with the Wind as a girl, hyper-focused on Scarlett’s pale shoulders. Hattie McDaniel as Mammy tells Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), “I ain’t aiming for you to get all freckled after the buttermilk I done put on you all this winter, bleaching them freckles.”

And I remember contemplating the bleaching power of buttermilk.

I remember imagining Hattie McDaniel pouring buttermilk down Vivien Leigh’s collarbone, her breasts. I imagined the buttermilk pooling—thick and fatty and white—on the floor.

Gone with the Wind’s premiere was in Atlanta at Loew’s Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in 1939. Hattie McDaniel, who went on to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy, was not allowed in the theatre, nor were any of the other black cast members. Veteran Confederate soldiers were invited in, however, and received a standing ovation.

 

When my grandmother was dying, she and my mother liked to watch movies together. Their favorite—so my mother says—was Raintree County—a late-1950s GWTW knock-off.

In Raintree County, Elizabeth Taylor (a newer-model Vivian Leigh) goes crazy because as a child she loved a black woman more than her own white mother. She goes crazy because she thinks she might be a black woman, too.

Then, Elizabeth Taylor drags her long-suffering husband (Montgomery Clift) back to the husk of a burnt-out house where she grew up somewhere in the deep South just so she can confess to him her inexplicable madness.

 

I went birding once with my sixteen-year old niece, my sister-in-law, my sister-in-law’s father—a neurologist—and the neurologist’s wife Joyce. We drove early to Pinckney Island’s Wildlife Refuge just off Hilton Head Island—but not early enough for Jerry who could spend all day there with his binoculars and bird book stuffed in the back pocket of his skinny-jeans.

As we walked to the nesting sites, my niece told me about the time she went camping and had to carry her urine around with her in a baggie. “Gross,” I said. Though I didn’t necessarily think it was gross.

We tramped a slow circle around Ibis Pond—the place Jerry loves best for the constant, manic squawking, and wing-beats. We saw birds on nests, birds at leisure, birds at work, birds flying in, birds taking off, aquatic birds of all sizes like the egret, the ibis, the heron, the wading birds and the shore birds, the raptors and the gulls—all members of some inter-species league that Jerry the human neurologist loves to watch.

The ibis in coastal North America, according to legend, is the first to leave before a hurricane, and the first to return after.

All will return to its natural state, says the ibis. Don’t worry.

I was so jazzed to finally see an ibis.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is named for Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney—a South Carolinian Revolutionary War officer, a friend of Washington’s, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was a soldier, a statesman, a lawyer, and a plantation owner. The Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge was once part of his plantation where over two hundred slaves worked to grow cotton.

Today, recently developed communities in the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina that were once plantations, are now called plantations. This particular parcel, by some odd chance, became a refuge. For birds.

 

On The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell proto-samples and re-arranges Harry Edison’s 1958 tune “Centerpiece,” on a song she titled “Harry’s House/Centerpiece”:

The more I’m with you pretty baby
The more I feel my love increase…

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Harry Edison was a black jazz trumpeter and a member of the Count Basie Orchestra. Because Edison was such a ladies’ man, they called him “Sweets.” Or no, it was the sweetness of his musical line—his melodic inclination.

He didn’t really know his father, a Hopi. The exact year of his birth is also unknown.

He played with Billie Holiday, who was too “yellow” in color to sing with all-African American bands, and who used makeup to darken her face. When he laughed at her, “She turned around and called me a motherfucker,” Edison said. “I don’t know how she made it as a woman. She never got tired.”

 

There’s a plaque in front of the little fake chapel in Palmetto Bluffs—a residential/vacation property on some twenty-thousand acres of South Carolina low country by the May River. The marker describes the “creation/recreation of an iconic symbol seen in small towns and communities for centuries across the South.”

It says that the chapel’s pews were hewn of wood pillaged from a New York City building destroyed in the attacks on September 11, 2001. The light fixtures are antiques, reengineered for electricity, and the bricks were handcrafted using an old colonial technique. People like to have weddings and concerts there, cocktail parties, and town meetings. There’s never actual fire and brimstone.

Palmetto Bluffs was once twenty-one plantations, and now it’s a singular community. To get there, one must take a long road past a guard gate that funnels down through rows of live oaks. You must drive for what seems like forever until you reach the river, and once you’re there, you’ll see shops, restaurants, houses, tabby sidewalks, brick streets, and the ruins of what was once a great big house, that is—a few pillars, a corner of foundation cordoned-off on the village green. And if you walk from the big old house’s ruins toward the river, you might come across a little cemetery where the headstones say, “Rowdy, Killed by Snakebite: A Good Terrier,” and “Tommy, a Fine Pointer: Dead from Old Age.”

You might remember the lane leading down to Twelve Oaks in Gone with the Wind was created in post-production, and that the plantation’s “big house” was actually just a Hollywood set. You might think: processionals, evacuations, exits and entrances, the joy of turning your back on a place, and the fear of turning to face it again.

 

It was fall, 1975—the dead center of the decade—and Joni Mitchell was on the road with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. It was during that particular tour that Dylan would smear his face with white paint before he went onstage to perform. As is the case with most of Dylan’s tricks, the original meaning has been lost to time and speculation. It’s reported here and there that Dylan said in response to a confused fan, “I want you to hear my words, not see my face.”

 

The Hissing of Summer Lawns had been released earlier that year.

In 1976, Mitchell went to a Halloween party dressed as a black man. One could argue she was engaged in some long-form “happening,” a performance art piece in which she hung around the corners of bassist’s Leland Sklar’s LA home, not speaking to anyone, not indicating to anyone she was really Joni Mitchell in disguise, just to see how long it would take for her to be approached and politely (or impolitely) asked to leave.

As a way to explain her sudden transformation into an alter ego she named “Art Nouveau,” she told Q Magazine,

I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard (when) a black guy walked by me with a diddy-bop kind of step, and said in the most wonderful way, “Lookin’ good, sister, lookin’ gooood.” His spirit was infectious and I thought, I’ll go as him. I bought the make-up, the wig… sleazy hat and a sleazy suit and that night I went to a Halloween party and nobody knew it was me.

Art Nouveau would appear several more times, most notably on the cover of her 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.  

She never did mention, in the Q interview or any other, how she came to paint her face brown, her hands brown, her neck brown, whether she felt in the least bit strange about it, the least bit concerned, or how she felt when she washed it away and was herself again, blonde and white and female, whether she felt that self to be a curse or a blessing, or just another disguise, obscuring the serious jazz musician underneath.

“I have a black sense of feel,” she once confessed to an interviewer.

 

Herbie Hancock, a long-time devotee and collaborator of Joni Mitchell’s, manages to make The Hissing of Summer Lawn’s “Sweet Bird” even bluer in his arrangement. By bluer, I mean less self-pitying, swinging instead into the kind of tune that sounds like how it feels to start putting color on primer, finally, after days, weeks, even months of staring at a white wall.

Wayne Shorter plays saxophone on the track and his playing, like Hancock’s, is poised but sketchy. It’s a loose wrist over a blank sheet of paper. The artist’s eyes are up and steady on his model—in this case a white woman who is aging, who “laid down golden and woke up vanishing.”

Wayner Shorter is from Newark. He played with Art Blakey, but missed playing with Miles Davis by a hair. No matter. His musical legacy is irrefutable.

But that isn’t the whole story.

His daughter with second wife Ana Maria Shorter was Iska, for whom the 1971 album Odyssey of Iska was named. Iska died of a grand mal seizure at fourteen years old. Eleven years later, Ana Maria and their niece were killed in a plane crash. 

The Hissing of Summer Lawns is predicated on the notion that its female characters are yoked to the physical realities of place, of time, and of the physical in ways its male characters are not. Like ballet dancers, their careers are brilliant but short-lived. They luxuriate sadly in their cages and age, after which their usefulness and value diminish:

We’re haunted by the shadows
of movies. In them all the horses you see
are dead. All the women
are dead. All the men
are dead:

Shadows and light.

I don’t know why my dying grandmother loved how Elizabeth Taylor was made insane by her own whiteness, or why she named my mother for darkness. I only know there are transcendent moments after dinner some nights when my husband and I put on records and our daughter dances alone in the living room. Once, she danced to “Sweet Bird” and watched her little girl’s shadow dance with her along the wall.

 

Joni Mitchell’s flight deeper into jazz would culminate in her 1978 collaboration with Charles Mingus, which resulted in the album, Mingus.

He was described by Stephen Davis in Zero: A Journal of Contemporary Buddhist Life and Thought:

Mingus wore all black, carried a knife, saw ghosts at night, talked animatedly with spirits, and was guided by Pluto, ruler of nightclubs and jazzmen…. He toted that huge black bass case lovingly around for 40 years, gently, as though a woman lived inside it: and in a sense there was a woman in there.

From under Mingus’s black hat, he saw the club crowd look at him as if they were watching a film about a magician who opens a coffin to reveal a living woman inside who he then proceeds to saw in half.

“Don’t interrupt the sorrow.”

 

During the filming of Raintree County, Montgomery Clift broke his jaw in a car accident. He was so beautiful before the accident and so damaged after, but still so beautiful. You can see it in the movie. You can see the before and after. How he was > and now was <; that is, if you can’t see real beauty.

Clift was in pain and so distraught by the change in his looks that he took to drinking and drugging to the point of absolute collapse. I like to imagine Elizabeth Taylor—his dear friend—laying a hand on the director’s shoulder somewhere in dark Kentucky and saying, “Ed, don’t interrupt the sorrow. The good slaves love the good book. A rebel loves a cause.”

But this was almost twenty years before Joni Mitchell wrote those lines.

 

Leonard Cohen declaims the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s “The Jungle Line” over Herbie Hancock’s piano. Cohen’s voice drools darkness, and because it’s a song about art and how there are lines, if nothing else, in Rousseau’s paintings of dark girls with jungle flowers in their hair—

then we must scorch art, raze it to the ground, reduce it down to nothing but ash and line, so we may see our cruelty without pretense, how it only takes a line to start a painting, it only takes one line to get lit or to start a poem or a song or—

Henri Rousseau never visited the jungles he painted. He never even left France, and took as a wife his landlord’s teenage daughter. Of their many children, only one survived.

Rousseau’s jungles don’t really exist except as conflations of plant conservatories, zoological gardens, and children’s storybook illustrations which he visited over and over again. I can imagine him opening those books lovingly, stroking the pages.

 

Unlike Gone with the Wind, Raintree County was actually filmed on location. The ruined big house that Elizabeth Taylor visits with Montgomery Clift is an actual plantation house, burned in 1890, now officially called the Windsor Ruins of Claiborne County, Mississippi.

So, when Elizabeth Taylor tries to imagine where her childhood room was when all that’s left are a few dead columns, she’s actually trying to reconstruct the past. It’s not really acting. What I mean is, she’s standing inside the past, pretending it means something to her, pretending she cares. And maybe she actually does.

Because that’s good acting.

Meanwhile, Montgomery Clift—poor, scarred Montgomery Clift—stands beside her, confused and worried.

It’s as if they’re staring at the hieroglyphics on the wall of a tomb and Elizabeth is saying, Monty, what does the ibis mean? I mean, what does all this mean?

And he’s like, Liz, I can’t feel my face.

 

There’s something fairy tale-esque about the South after a storm—and I mean that in the most horrible way: boats in trees, children stranded on rooftops, floating limbs of all kinds, street lamps wrapped around telephone poles, a long line for bottled water like the snaking line of a master painter or a damaged heart’s EKG.

Monsters of the deep are awakened; monsters of the air are asleep; the world is reimagined by a disembodied hand descending into a mucky fish bowl to stir the gravel around.

Every story needs to begin in a place of stasis, a comfortable zero. Only the ibis feels it coming, knows the equilibrium is about to change, so it’s the first to fly away, even into blue sky.

But the ibis has faith we’ll someday be back at zero again, and so it reappears, even at the very height of conflict.

 

Kris Kristofferson once famously urged her, “Oh Joni—save something of yourself!”

Leave it to a man to tell a woman to set aside a portion of her soul for her own soul.

 

Mrs. DuBois, my fourth-grade teacher and our neighbor (two doors down) in a Cincinnati suburb, watched as her house burned up in a gas grill accident. She sat at a safe distance on the lawn holding her daughter in her lap, and watched the fire. I remember seeing her like that—not her face—just her curved back, and while I didn’t see her face, I pictured it lit up by the fire, made different by it, recolored and reconstituted.

After it was all over and we’d given the family toothpaste and soap and a place to stay for a few days, I liked to walk around the burnt-out foundation by myself, believing I was an archeologist or anthropologist or apologist.

I found playing cards, photographs, plates. It was like walking through somebody’s dead, ashy body.

What was it Robert Frost said about the world ending in fire or ice? More like fire or water, or like laying down golden just to wake up vanishing.

 

Whenever we watched Raintree County, my mom would say she always liked Eva Marie Saint best—the sweet, golden girl, the girl-next-door, the blonde, the righteous abolitionist, tidy and prim and sane.

Legend has it the town of Danville, Kentucky liked her best too during filming back in 1956. Elizabeth Taylor: not so much. Sure, she was a “functioning voluptuary,” as Paul Newman called her—a verifiable goddess—but ugh. All those men. All those diamonds. What big breasts. Plus her character was a nutcase—a hysterical Southern woman desperately unhappy in her own white skin. And then there was the matter of Montgomery Clift—her damaged best friend—queer and drunk and out of control, running naked through town like a loco colt. No. Eva Marie Saint would prove to age better to be quainter, quieter, to cut a cleaner figure.

Still, the movie didn’t go over particularly well, despite Eva Marie Saint. It’s just a wannabe Gone with the Wind, people said, but with a more modern ethos.

Maybe that big, long, boring snooze of a film was rereleased in theaters years after its original run, and maybe my grandmother, freshly diagnosed, asked my mother—herself a young wife and mother—to see it again, one last time:

Liz Taylor beautiful and insane, clutching her childhood doll with the burned face; loyal Yankee Montgomery Clift who just can’t understand his Southern wife’s perpetual hang-up: that her skin might not actually be white. Peel it off and everyone will see how dark she actually is and at last she’ll be free. Or die.

So, she dies.

Every time I watch Raintree County I wonder what my grandmother saw in it—what in it spoke to her. Having been dead long before I was born, she remains a puzzle. Maybe she was looking for a second Gone with the Wind, having loved the first so much; that she loved the first so much is also a puzzle.

 

Edith and the Kingpin
Each with charm to sway
Are staring eye to eye
They dare not look away
You know they dare not look away

 

But Eva Marie Saint could be a bad girl, too. Hitchcock cut her hair and dressed her in expensive clothes—clean lines—nothing too flashy—because in North by Northwest she plays a kept woman, and kept women must keep a low profile while also appearing kept.

Then again, all of Hitchcock’s blondes are dressed and styled like that—are they, therefore, all kept women?

Edith in Joni Mitchell’s “Edith and the Kingpin” is a kept woman. As a kid, I had a notion about that word and it had something to do with belonging to a large-framed white man in a square suit who chomps cigars. It’s a word that smells of ill-gotten gains, dirty power, seedy shit.

But I was intimately familiar with the idea that—if you weren’t careful—eventually your man will discard you for someone younger, and sometimes it’s a matter of looking the other way, only Edith in Joni Mitchell’s song doesn’t look away.

 

Raintree County is a melodrama, meaning a film interested in the lives of women. It’s a woman’s drama set against the backdrop of Civil War, as was Gone with the Wind. But the protagonist of Raintree County is a man—a delicate, book-loving, sensitive man to whom crazy women are drawn, a romantic who looks outside his own context for adventure, and who is eventually punished for it. He should’ve stayed in Raintree County.

My great-grandmother was born in Massachusetts, and her parents were born somewhere in Scandinavia. Her name was Edna (according to a 1930 census, the only record I have of her), but I prefer to call her Edith because it’s a name I love thanks to Joni Mitchell’s Edith, Edith Piaf, and Edith Wharton. Edith is a strong name.

She married my great-grandfather at eighteen, moved to Ohio, had two kids, and somewhere around her thirtieth year, she disappeared—was put in an asylum (for drunkenness or insanity or both), and here her story dissipates.

I’ve heard she sent her kids off to school one morning and when they came home later that afternoon, she was gone, either by choice or by force—I don’t know.

It sounds like a melodrama, but set against the backdrop of ordinary things like immigration, poverty, etc.

The census says she was: F (female), M (married), Education (none), W (white), Speaks English? (yes).

The whiteness of her skin is signified by that single letter: W. I wonder, did it turn especially golden in summer the way her granddaughter’s does, owing—naturally—to its inherent whiteness? That it can become golden is a virtue of whiteness, as is the notion that golden-white skin denotes health, prosperity, leisure, self-care.

But Edith’s (Edna’s) vanishing isn’t the kind of vanishing Joni Mitchell is talking about in “Sweet Bird.” To “lay down golden and [wake] up vanishing” is to wake up diminished by age and time—a crisis not many women have the time to consider.

It takes time to contemplate the ravages of time.

I’m not sure Edna (Edith) had this luxury; she doesn’t even have a last name (beyond her married one), or a date of death. For all I know, she’s “up on her feathers laughing.”

But what she did have was the letter W handwritten on the 1930 census. That, at least, was hers—a single letter prophesying her granddaughter’s future goldenness, and my future repudiation of goldenness, as style and fashion dictates.

 

I remember the glow—laying out on a South Carolina beach to get my brother’s friend to notice me and, after burning off a layer or two, feeling a fraud, yet still turning golden. I was so golden in fact, when I walked into my mother’s kitchen after almost two weeks away, for a second she didn’t even know me. “Hello?” she said, and, “Oh!”

 

Some women have the time to sleep in the sun, and the sun is a good religion, and I’m on the lawn and it is summer—the longest day of the year—and I’m hissing through my teeth, “Help me I think I’m falling in love too fast…” or I’m becoming the lawn, and I’m embodying and imbibing the multitudes, and I am democracy in a bikini because, fuck it! And I’m skinny as hell, but eating it all, drunk on my porch, on your porch, turning the color of sand, of river silt, of copper eagles’ wings—the Eagles are fine too for easy listening—and all peoples of all colors of all regions and religions, of all proclivities, too are fulfilling their dream in me and of me—a paralegal on the weekdays, sun-worshipper on the weekends, and it is good in their eyes. “And you love your lovin’ / But not like you love your freedom…” And my husband the chef will come home eventually in his clogs and make me something greasy and let me throw up into his mouth after vodka because he’s sweet like that, as I always imagined he would be, and because vodka and burnt skin don’t mix, but all is well and good, and it’s the best time to live in since whenever.

 

Of the Big Man, Mitchell sings, “His left hand holds his right / What does that hand desire / That he grips it so tight?”

Answer:

To hit / To stroke / To take / To tell / To eat / To spit back up / To pat Rowdy a poor Terrier, dead of snakebite / To part the legs of the nameless factory girl he calls simply Gold / To start the fire that burned her up / To put out the fire that burned her up / To prime the land / To let it go wild again / To bury Rowdy a poor Terrier, dead of snakebite / To silence the infernal hissing of summer lawns / To twist the wheel to start the water that makes for hissing on summer lawns / To wave people off the land / To beckon other people onto it / To hold / To hit / To stroke / To take / To tell.

 

Napoleon and his legion of scientists, cartographers, and engineers plunged into Egypt in 1798, looking for many things and finding also the ibis—

sacred bird to the Egyptians. To kill one was a capital offense, but killing and mummifying them for luck in the afterlife was common practice.

(I was so jazzed to see an ibis.)

***

Image credits:

Photograph of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge © Jeff Gunn from Atlanta, USA (Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Henri Rousseau painting © Henri Rousseau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Lesley Jenike's poems and essays have appeared or will appear soon in The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, Poetry, The Southern Review, At Length, The Cincinnati Review, Rattle, Verse, and many other journals. Her most recent collection is a chapbook of poems, Punctum:, out from Kent State University Press in 2017. She teaches creative writing and literature courses at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio where she lives with her husband and two small children. More from this author →