When the gods finished one world
And man another, only the birds remained
To reconcile the difference.
When the sea forged the moon
On midnight's black anvil, that coin
To tempt heaven with its brilliance,
The sparks of moon-dross and shadow
Were fashioned into birds.
Long ago, when life finished its world
And death began the next, only birds
Were left out of the reckoning,
Birds and mirrors.
It is said that the kingdom of sleep
Has never once spoken to the republic of waking,
Having disagreed over the earth's inheritance
And the rain's only daughter. But in truth,
Each intimately knows the other, writing love letters
On the leaves of the wind, in the elaborate longhand
If you meet a bird at the crossroads of a dream,
It means that your shadow has lost its way
And must find you before the light of morning.
If you wake then to the singing of birds, quickly
Check for your shadow to be sure which side
Of the light you are on. Pinch yourself,
Then go to the mirror-
You will still not know.
To make a bird, take the eye
Of a serpent and the head of the rat
Which snuck onto the Ark. Next,
The iron of all the rainbows
Left over from the First day, and comb
It through the scales of a dragon.
For bones moonlight will do,
Assembled to the blueprints of frost.
For the heart you must marry the flute
With the tiger, and for blood you will need
To alchemize the ink of an iris with a cup
Of seawater on a night of phosphorescence.
For the brain, a watch found in a nightmare.
Now leaf it all with the heavy gold of fear
And the silver of insomnia, then place a nest
In the tree of life in death, or the tree
Of death in life. You will hear
The sound of wings, like the sea,
And wake as the day darkens
With their singing.
John Lindgren currently teaches mathematics and physics at California State University, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles City College. His poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Chelsea, The Literary Review, The Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, The Sewanee Review, and elsewhere. (4/2007)