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Cygnus Cygnus

           For Dean Young

To love a theory leaves no room for imprecision. Let us count:
Here is a king. Here is a catfish. Here is a staff of office.
Here's a sad-beaked animal nibbling at my poor snack cake of grief.

Hello, sad animal. Turns out, you're not making the swim back.
Pythagoras argued that the souls of poets pass not from this world
but lodge themselves in the breastwork of swans.

Let it be, then. Let some of us withdraw to the keel-shaped bones
to the tilted orrery of the thorax. But I think: if poets coalesce as swans
we're mostly in the feet of swans, black as drums

pressing our rageful webbing into the earth's flank.
The sound of a swan is no chemical thing, but a bloody hum
thick with rivalry & blue weather. It's rage that moves

the tongue of a swan in strange meters, it is only rage
that pulls the tarsometatarsus back to the joint, like
a bowstring stretched to the edge

of its hungry self. Just so, you taught me to be warlike
in my songs & still to praise the palm-sized stars
brooding over their great darkness.

I see how art is. It's a fine blast furnace, & my knuckles
make an imperfect pomegranate-delivery system. It's tempting
to lie to the young. But you told us rightly about the beautiful

dead flamingoes holding up the continent, & the thousands
of microscopic bluebirds who once pinned the canopy of Iowa
in place. Last time I passed your house, something with a beak

& wings had pecked a line of punctuation in the stucco
then dressed each small exit with a different, loosening fist
of dry grass. I wanted to tell you: The neighborhood is full

of unusual craft today, professor. But instead, I let the moon
swing like a lantern over the old, sugary architecture
of your road. To be a poet is to surface plainly

from the wound of sleep. To observe how thickly feathered
the heart, how small & bright the planet of human thought.
When you tell the sky goodbye in your poems

it's awful. Every time. This last lesson moves beyond
my study. But you remain with me as a winter sky
shot through with swans of iron, swans of steel.

Let no harm come to the dark you have made.

Kiki Petrosino

Hymn for the Black Terrific
Sarabande Books

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