My grandchildren see the pedantic glint
and squirm as I explain
how floating cities
like Rio, Shanghai, Alexandria
still follow the contours
of ancient mule-paths
far beneath the waves.
The kids say, “We know,”
and go back to their games.
What is that black bird?
In my homeland,
we ate the last songbird a thousand years ago.
In our flooded suburb
we have many seagulls.
I have a blackbird in a cage.
My cousins from the coast
wake with the birds and smile:
No sea to fear.
Our town has welcomed more than 100 refugees this year.
They don’t know the names for things.
They get all the birds wrong.
It is cold here.
I am glad to have a safe home,
but don’t the birds feel naked
in those bare trees?
Wasilla is quieter now
birds circle vacant houses
sinking into melted soil.
Dense willow boughs,
once shelter for birds,
now break the waves
and fish spawn safely there.
When smallpox returned
birds again filled the skies
above un-harvested fields.
Our neighborhood cats
spend all night out on limbs
hunting transgenic birds.
They’re easy to spot.
Birds come to the feeder
push millet seeds onto the ground
and refuse to eat.
The drones endanger the birds.
The birds endanger the drones.
We like to hunt:
birds, squirrels, deer.
Some are poison.
Birds, cars, trains,
children speaking one hundred languages:
the sounds of North Dakota.
Packrats overthrew the government in 1980, or 1968, or 1922—
or perhaps they always ran the place.
They build their middens out of stolen wheat and mortgages,
piled in burrows on offshore islands,
cemented with amberat (which accretes from urine)
and which can preserve a treasure-pile for centuries, at least, or possibly forever,
until scholars and treasure-seekers wander in with brushes and dental picks,
prying apart the riches of a lost continent,
still—after thousands of years—reeking of lust and greed.
A handful of hipsters from Dayton, Ohio (don’t laugh)
have full-shirt tattoos of famous traffic jams:
Lagos, Mexico City, Moscow, Joburg…
with authentic makes, models and choke points.
It can take all day for a Lada to make it from hip to wrist,
the driver fuming and pissing in a bottle,
and one motorbike just off Tverskaya
has never made it off its rib.
I went looking for the artist who did all that ink,
but some other dude was renting his chair,
his dealer was angry—out a hundred bucks—
and his trailer had burned to the ground.
Meanwhile, in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur,
a handful of wanna-be thugs
are sporting idealized Pan-American Highways,
just before dawn, empty of cars.
Southwestern Minnesota contains several lost cities
but for our purposes here we’ll focus on one
lost since 1871
when a Lakota grandmother
ironically named Letty Swenson
became fed up with its streets
(to say nothing of its citizens)
and shut her eyes to it forevermore.
In an instant its prosperous Belgians,
lapsed Hutterites, sodden Germans,
bewildered Swedes and lone Korean
vanished from the prairie
and became suddenly and helplessly self-sufficient
in what amounted to a soap bubble in time.
buxom and plain
had planned to steal a horse
and ride it clear to Sioux Falls
in search of better prospects
but had to settle for Sven Lindberg.
lost two-thirds of his income
unable to sell saddles
(and and feed, and tack, and medicine)
to his customers seven miles away
(whom we won’t neglect)
had planned to travel to Marshall
to attend the Swedenborgian church
instead made peace with his god
among the Methodists.
If you visited it today
(I would not know how, but perhaps you do)
you would find two thousand souls more or less
nice folks, harmlessly inbred
who would be pleased to meet you
invite you to supper, pass you a hymnal
but lacking the imagination
to fathom why Letty was so pissed.
The first child born in outer space
was an accident
the result of an impulse–a joke, almost–
between two people who don’t even like each other.
Sex was slippery
like climbing a tree
or jumping off a roof.
has advantages and disadvantages.
It’s a curse in the first trimester
and a blessing in the third.
Childbirth in space
is exactly the hell you’d imagine.
Gravity is no help,
and the father is a bully.
Our baby floats there
in a cloud of afterbirth
eyes open wide
too startled to cry.
our local jua kali man
built me a nanoassembler
in exchange for my Jonway.
He used pallet wood,
cord from radial tires,
and Burmese contraband.
It makes decent Fanta,
and Polish vodka.
I paid off the local muscle,
my coffee shop
and my ex-husband.
In a few weeks
if my luck holds
I’ll have the cash
for a new Jonway.
When Americans die
they float on for years
in plastic bottles
far out at sea.
The bottles decay
the souls are released
eaten by albatross
strangling their young.
I found one myself
cloudy but whole
half sunken there
and poured out its ghost.
It offered one wish
I asked for reprieve
It laughed from its guts
and dove out of sight.