Birthday Poem

Russel Swensen

The bright day is done and we are for the dark

beneath the floorboards or pressed against the walls

like wet newsprint the brightness of the lion humming

in our chest the orchids whose roots grasp only air

all of this must be a stand-in for something else some

dark roar some girl gasping “holy roses!” and a job

that goes missing a city raised on a diet of cigarettes

and never-kissing drinking in the alley behind our house

a boy with a face like a sun-stain saying “unpleasant to

intolerable, unpleasant to intolerable” who are these denizens

of our dreams shouldn’t we have found the time to have better

dreams they dig the voice box out of the steppes of my chest

the detectives hold it in their hands like smoke they breathe on it

they breathe it in I walk into my office with great calm and composure

put a finger to your lips we’re for the dark a boy wins a contest to hold

a drill convention you’re like “you know?” and I’m like “yes but with more

holes” when we were younger it made more sense it's amazing to me too that

I’m amazed Cass we need to make your mind a cloud and I remember you

kneeling in front of the manor the bright day is done and we are for the dark

that settles over the park like a blanket over a burn victim “you’ll be fine” the

nurse said “just don’t feel anything.”