The Stone Menagerie

In Tanzania,
a thesaurus of birds
perch stiffly, petrified
by the alkaline slime
of Lake Natron.

These avian stones,
these strands of hide and rough-twine
wide-fanning feathers:
Calcified cranes, sparrows
chewed to paste, finches hardened
to chalk, a hawk’s ghostly wing.

The ashen and the toothwhite
plastered the lakeshore as the person fossils
found in Old Pompeii.

Their radar betrayed them.
They once trusted the pull of air,
Its current-cushion beneath them, but no,
with no sense left in the birds,
they plummeted in bunches, swallowed by
a thin, hanging red vapor.

You were here once.
You listened. You studied the volley
of splashes. They spoke only
in a single monosyllable: muerte.

One freeze to another freeze:
You tapped your toes, waiting for melody.

The curator
held up the rockbirds with sticks and staples.

He saw you,
a living marble tricked into machination,
your face in a silver veil, half opaque.

You begged the birds to stop singing.

Daniel Jenkins is a poet, critic, and teacher. His writing has appeared in Lost River Literary, Cold Mountain Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Poetry Northwest and Maryland Literary Review. He holds an MFA in Poetry from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He lives & works in Northern Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.