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About this poet

Joe Wilkins received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Idaho. He is the author of the poetry collections When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016), Notes from the Journey Westward (White Pine Press, 2012), and Killing the Murnion Dogs (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). He is the director of creative writing at Linfield College and lives in Oregon.

My Son Asks for the Story About When We Were Birds

When we were birds,
we veered & wheeled, we flapped & looped—

it's true, we flew. When we were birds,
we dined on tiny silver fish
& the watery hearts
of flowers. When we were birds

we sistered the dragonfly,
brothered the night-wise bat,

& sometimes when we were birds

we rose as high as we could go—
light cold & strange—

& when we opened our beaked mouths
sundown poured like wine
down our throats.

When we were birds
we worshipped trees, rivers, mountains,

sage knots, rain, gizzard rocks, grub-shot dung piles,

& like all good beasts & wise green things
the mothering sun. We had many gods
when we were birds,

& each in her own way
was good to us, even winter fog,

which found us huddling
in salal or silk tassel,
singing low, sweet songs & closing
our blood-rich eyes & sleeping
the troubled sleep of birds. Yes,

even when we were birds
we were sometimes troubled & tired,

sad for no reason, 

& so pretended we were not birds
& fell like stones—

the earth hurtling up to meet us,
our trussed bones readying
to be shattered, our unusually large hearts
pounding for nothing—

yet at the last minute we would flap
& lift, & as we flew, shudderingly away,

we told ourselves that this falling—

we would remember. We thought
we would always
be birds. We didn't know.

We didn't know
we could love one another

with such ferocity. That we should.

Copyright © 2016 Joe Wilkins. “My Son Asks for the Story About When We Were Birds” was published in When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016). Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2016 Joe Wilkins. “My Son Asks for the Story About When We Were Birds” was published in When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016). Used with permission of the author.

Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Idaho. He is the author of the poetry collections When We Were Birds (University of Arkansas Press, 2016), Notes from the Journey Westward (White Pine Press, 2012), and Killing the Murnion Dogs (Black Lawrence Press, 2011). He is the director of creative writing at Linfield College and lives in Oregon.

by this poet

poem
Old friend,
stuck in that small town,
we tried every way we could
to kill ourselves. 
 
That night down on the river,
that night I lost you?
 
That was a stupid night.
 
I think about it all the time.
 
poem
Old friend,
are we there yet? 

You sat with me once,
outside a dirty burger joint,
a hard light at the windows.

It was just about
the ass crack of the afternoon,

mountains in the distance,

& I’d played a trick on you,
or you’d played a trick on me,

& the highway
was a home to comings & goings,
poem

In the blue dark I followed the ridge
toward the pines.

In a bowl of sage and dry grass
soft as the throat-hairs

of something small,
I lay down.

The sun was a long time coming,
the earth bloodless at my belly.

I waited and watched the river.
I was very still. You