The speaker of this poem wants to hear back from the world.

Her listening becomes an inquiry, a repeated and unanswered question. "I pick up a toddler's telephone, / Hello?—No answer." "I stand at the / lip of a pouting valley—speak to me!" The em dash registers the pause on the page, shows us the speaker in waiting. It becomes a mark of negative space, which the rest of the poem grows around. The poem trades off between presence and absence—the actions of life, "I grow wisdom / teeth. Jog," and the gaps in life, "the yawning hole"—which together approximate living. 

As we approach the end of the poem, something strange happens. All along, the speaker has been listening and hearing in response "—nothing." But at the end of the poem, the speaker begins to frame absences as "never... again." The "dead bird" from the start of the poem becomes "the talking bird" never "again" met by the speaker. Between these two claims is an implied gap in which communication, the absence of which we've tracked through the poem, must have happened.

This slipperiness is central to the poem, and I won't attempt to dispel it entirely. One option is to say that, in the perception of absences, there are always presences that we fail to notice until later, when they themselves disappear. 

By Caroline Bird

I do kind gestures. Remove my appendix.
I put my ear to a flat shell and—nothing.
I play the lottery ironically. Get married.
Have a smear test. I put my ear to the beak
of a dead bird—nothing. I grow wisdom
teeth. Jog. I pick up a toddler’s telephone,
Hello?—No answer. I change a light bulb
on my own. Organize a large party. Hire
a clown. Attend a four-day stonewalling
course. Have a baby. Stop eating Coco Pops.
I put my ear right up to the slack and gaping
bonnet of a daffodil—. Get divorced. Floss.
Describe a younger person’s music taste as
“just noise.” Enjoy perusing a garden center.
Sit in a pub without drinking. I stand at the
lip of a pouting valley—speak to me!
My echo plagiarizes. I land a real love plus
two real cats. I never meet the talking bird
again. Or the yawning hole. The panther
of purple wisps who prowls inside the air.
I change nappies. Donate my eggs. Learn
a profound lesson about sacrifice. Brunch.
No singing floorboards. No vents leaking
scentless instructions. My mission is over.
The world has zipped up her second mouth.

This poem was published in the February 2019 issue of POETRY. It reminds me of a line from "Among the Losses" by Anya Silver, which I shared a couple of weeks ago, though Bird's speaker makes us laugh and Silver's does not: "Many days, I want to throw my fists against God’s body. / But nothing, nothing."

Sonia's Guide to Gifts for Herself & Other People (Part 3)

Long live gift agglomeration! Click to review part one and part two

For a snacker who enjoys a level up, try these homemade Poptarts from Wild Fruits ($20 for a box of 5). Warm them up in the oven to eat. They keep for 3-4 weeks. I purchased over the summer and can confirm they were quite tasty. 

Luster by Raven Leilani for someone who likes reading right now fiction. Alive, funny, involves many a penis. 

Does anyone want to receive deodorant at Christmas? Is this the health and wellness equivalent of coal? Whatever. Soapwalla is my favorite natural deodorant ($18). It doesn’t give me eczema, has a faintly medicinal smell that I find soothing and genuinely prevents me from smelling weird. NB it’s a deodorant not an antiperspirant. You do apply it with your fingers, but I found this fancy bamboo applicator on Fill More Waste Less if that’s your vibe ($4).

Baby I Don't Care by Chelsey Minnis for someone who likes poetry, glasses of champagne and the direly glamorous. 

For a lover of cocktails who doesn’t actually know how to make them, try Avec’s non-alcoholic mixers. Real juice, all-natural, low calorie, low sugar—just add liquor. Black woman owned. You can buy a variety pack (3 of each flavor for $45), but my favorite is Jalapeño & Blood Orange for sure ($36 for a 12 pack). Bonus tip for added tropical feeling: use frozen fruit as ice cubes. 

Sesha ReNu Exfoliating Gel causes your dead skin to jump off your face like sailors abandoning ship. A little unnerving but v effective and didn't bother my sensitive skin. 

For absolutely anyone, a pair of wool socks from Bombas ($68.40 for a set of 4). I cannot overstate how much I love these socks. They have surpassed even Smart Wool in my Midwestern quest for warm feet during the months of October-May. I’m also into this donegal pair ($15) and this Oscar the Grouch pair ($14, other characters also available). Plus they donate a pair of socks for every pair purchased!

Custom Ex Libris stickers go to the friend who refers to their bookshelf as a library. For some reason, the internet thinks these are mostly for babies or the deliberately anachronistic, but the stationary brand Felix Doolittle has customizable medallions ($20 for 20, $30 for 40) and bookplates ($25 for 20, $35 for 40) in some pretty designs. 

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins for someone who wants to lose themselves in a 600 page Victorian novel. Involves body doubles, an illicit affair with a painting tutor, international espionage and verbose sentences. 

I buy tea in bulk from Cleveland Tea Revival. They have an online shop, but I recommend just reaching out to Amber, the owner, via email because they don't have their full offering available online ( I always stick to the classics: Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Jasmine Pearl and Ginger Root. But they also have delightful blends. If you enjoy warm, sweet teas like Chai, try Sweet Roots. Goodnight Irene is an excellent pre-bed tea. And my mom likes their Turmeric blends. For bonus present vibes, request the tea be packaged in their sleek, black gifting tins. All tea is loose leaf.

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Sonia Feldman · 2529 Detroit Ave · Cleveland, OH 44113 · USA

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