National Poetry Month Day 7: Destiny O. Birdsong





Boston Marriage

            “Earthbound women share bread; / make; do.”
                                                                        – Marilyn Hacker

It was not the tiny basketball shorts fit

for a Bill-Russell rebound, their double white stripe beckoning—

a rumpled road, untraveled by my feet.

It was not the sight of your legs, their cross-stiches

of fine hair; how you’d lunge in wait, laughing for me,

your geometry slaking the parkway’s violent green

with long strokes, and my Vaselined thighs with a cruder oil.

It was not the log-sunning turtles you pointed to

on our walks as we huddled, our slatted shadows

kissing on the footbridge as you waited for my eyes

to parse sun, moss, and serrated bark for a sight

of six cobbled backs milliseconds before they plunged

with a supple splash, the water ringing like my vestibule.

It was not the Northeastern butches you clocked on the trail;

the knowing smiles they offered our passing, midsections decked

in fluorescent fanny packs, breasts flouncing like wild geese.

It wasn’t the pizza after, how your languid digits

stroked shakers of Parmesan and pepper flakes,

groped the grooves of tumblers, and fingered napkins

blotched with pepperoni drippings like diluted blood.

Perhaps it was the time we were really there—

or close—sharing a borrowed bed in Boxborough,

the customary strip of sheet and our backs between us

as we spoke to the walls about tasks at hand:

tomorrow’s roundtable; the poise needed to return

home and love people we had reason enough not to trust.

Perhaps it was the way you paused

when I confessed men were as frightening to me as God,

though I couldn’t shake them, my lead-tipped messiahs

of foreskin and fickle flesh. It was a declaration

I now recognize for what it was:

the weak jangle of my master key,

my body’s unbolting as beckoning,

preconditioned to lie in wait. To wait to be taken.

All my ignorance, balled up in some stranger’s bedclothes

and in traces I’d left in the small box of the shower;

the refuse of me still sudsing its stall.

You knew there was a woman wrestling there, drowning,

whose head I’d plunge then pull from my dammed

water, hold up briefly for breaths of air

in the heaving possibility of your dark.

Perhaps you held her too, in your mind, first

as theory, prospect of conquest, then as fragile unfurling

until the balance became clear, and you said, I love you

and goodnight. And we slept soundlessly

as the snow falling outside: pristine, unfound

by workboots and the glaze of mufflers dragging the road.

You would fall, one day, for a woman from that place.

I would learn to touch women without blame—

and the migration that could have been ours changes shape

each time I look back at myself—chimera of uncertainties,

every animal straining to be free from the rest.

Next day, on the train, you named for me a bird

I’d seen months before, perched on a powerline

outside the window near the bed I shared

with the lover who would sire a son without me.

The bird’s color was so blue I questioned my sight.

Indigo bunting, you called it. Passerina cyanea.

Cardinal of the night, prone to disorientation

when it can neither migrate nor see stars.

Its names grazed my lips with electric wings

as we rode, hushed, on the gauntlet of that city

meant to be both of ours, where Ben Franklin

first watched then mimicked scientists wrangling

current from cloud, rerouting every charge

into the safety of solid ground—a discovery

that made every other illumination possible.


Photograph of Destiny O. Birdsong by Hunter Armistead.

Destiny O. Birdsong is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has either appeared or is forthcoming in African American Review, The Adroit Journal, Best New Poets 2018, The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature, storySouth, Guernica, and elsewhere. Destiny has won the Academy of American Poets Prize, Naugatuck River Review’s 2016 Poetry Contest, Meridian’s 2017 “Borders” Contest in Poetry, and Crab Orchard Review’s 2019 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize. She has received support from Cave Canem, Callaloo, Jack Jones Literary Arts, The MacDowell Colony, Pink Door, The Ragdale Foundation, and the Tin House Summer Workshop. Her debut poetry collection, Negotiations, is forthcoming from Tin House Books in Fall 2020. She earned both her MFA and PhD from Vanderbilt University. Learn more at More from this author →