Dana Roeser

Personal Bird

I have a personal bird.
          It sings its four-note
melodic song day and night
          without relenting.
I can hear it now through the
          sliding glass door.
It doesn’t care whether I’ve
          planted the marigolds
and nasturtiums, string
          beans or zinnias
(though if I did, it would be
          chiming in right overhead), or
rinsed the sour milk
          from the plastic bottle
I found in my front yard
          (students!). And I can
look at my email all I want
          every time I hear one of
those irksome “notifications”:
          it doesn’t care
whether I publish
          my book or not, or whether
I published my other books
          or whether I publish this or
that poem or whether
          Tom, Dick, or Harry carries
the torch for me or hates
          me in their sleep or thinks I need
filler—Juvederm—in my
                    it cares not
about writer’s block, or energy block,
          or even libido block or
distinct lack of interest
          in food, horrible night
sweats and compulsive consumption
          via iPhone of repeating news
cycles about our asshole
          president and his
asshole entourage. And that
          campaigning congressman in
Montana who decked a reporter—
          and then was elected.
Personal bird can be
          heard when I’m out
of ear shot upstairs on the
          other side of the house
meditating. Supposedly listening
          to “Andy,” the Headspace
guy, then sallying forth
          into silence for
twenty minutes.
          But thinking things
like All people are vampires.
          Or showoffs. Or Steffi
is being judgmental. Or H. has
          dropped me again. Or…how
much do I actually need to
          exercise to get a “handle”
on these “handles”? High-minded
          stuff like that. After that, prayers
and readings from Pema Chodron,
          Melody Beattie, Emmett
Fox, and The Courage
to Change.
                                        Poor bird is
indefatigable. Poor bird repeats
          the same two rising
notes, so close in pitch, pause
          and the two repeated
lower ones. Sometimes, it’s
          five and the middle
one is the high piercing one.
          Cheer-up, cheerily,
cheer-up, cheerily, Peterson’s
          says. Where do they
get these “transcriptions”?
          Personal bird is high in
the elm I think. I haven’t been able
          to spot it. If it goes
quiet I can call it—then it
          comes right back.
Soon, my mother will be dead
          fifteen years. Not my
hasty glance at her post-mortem
          bedside (obeying
her even then—she had said she didn’t
          want to be seen dead) or staying
down the hall in the meeting
          room when the freckle-
faced guy from the funeral
          parlor came to get
“her” with his gurney and
          his green zippered bag. Not the
night before when
          the night nurses came in
to sponge-bathe her feverish
          body. She wore an
oxygen mask the size of
          a salad bowl. The machine
that fed it was like a refrigerator.
          Her blood oxygen
dropped and dropped. I discussed
          with my father his
future plans. With her not two
          feet away, panting. I had
her clothes dispatched within a day.
          Two sets to the similarly
tiny women my brothers
          had chosen, a few sweaters to my
cousin Jane, and the rest to
          Flotsam and Jetsam, the
in-house thrift shop at the nursing
          home. The tiny-diamond
guard ring from the hand she’d
          slapped me with,
I quickly bestowed
          on my sister-in-law—though,
come to think of it,
          I’m not sure she ever
slapped me wearing that
          ring—she got it,
I think, when I was a six-foot-tall
          adult. The six
watches I kept, figuring punctuality
          could be a worthy
inheritance, and promptly
          lost them, one by one.

Personal bird, so sweet and pure,
          says it’s like a huge
grappling hook, a bloody hook
          at a slaughter house, that
I will dangle on for the
          rest of my life. I will
continually find people with
          her “psychology” and
assign them to dominate
          me. That I will feel
humiliated and victimized
          for the duration….That it’s
too late to fix it, that it could not
          ever have been
fixed. Sweet bird, so lovely;
          I have just learned
you are a robin. The friendly species
          who truly answers when
I whistle. She was brilliant
          and funny, generous
and charismatic,
          to anyone who didn’t
brave the house. Woe be unto
          the person born her
child. The bird seems to be promising
          something. It repeats itself
over and over. Then goes across
          the street for awhile
until I call it back.


Deep Vein Thrombosis

The grizzled white whisker
          near the corner

                    of J.’s mouth—
          where he has
you’ve been whispering,
talking with him,
                              sotto voce,
in a twelve-step
                    meeting—it’s like a wave, you’re

too close

          decide if you’re
                    attracted or revolted. His
black mustache

          goatee     shaved head. Turn off or turn
          on? He’s creepy, Mia
says in a text about
          the guy who followed
                    her to the bathroom;
          he calls her every
night and tells
          her in his sonorous voice
                              about his Army years
in Germany, how
          his wife doesn’t
          like him being in
the program. I heard him
          say once he’d been
          a Special Op. I heard

               him once
     say he used
     to drink every night
                              till dawn

in a closet with
          the light out

     in a plaid telaweave
          folding chair. A woman is
          jumping my husband—

     I told him 
this morning every time
     I see her I want to pour
          a bottle
               of moisturizer over
her head.
     They work

               together they’re
                    thrown together

     Her husband
has had a stroke, is
               What does
she think I’m dead?
                    *  *  *
Deep Vein Thrombosis. They
     talk about it like
it’s an underground river,
          that may or may

                    not bubble
to the surface, and if so,
                    where in this
vast wooded
     and meadowed terrain? It
                just explodes

                    my brother said,
     his “young” friend—
his age—whose
          clot traveled to his

another guy who
had a silent one
          that traveled
                    from leg to spine
                something didn’t
feel right
he went to a doctor
          before getting on yet
     another flight
got put on
     My daughter’s boyfriend
          told me his family property

“Le Gasteaud” in Auriol wasn't
     worth much

without water. Water springing
     up all over the
          the adjacent

               farmland underground springs
     irrigation pools for fields,

but Frederic for some reason
had only
     bought the half acre the house

               stood on.
They were having

          to haul buckets
from the Roman
     Fountain until

he thought to hire
          un sourcier, a source-
finder, sorcerer, Djibril

          gesturing a wishbone,
     the diviner

waving the
     antennae     of his tuning fork—

     and voilà. They dug, water
bubbled up.

          The over-the-top Palais
               Longchamp, on
a huge rise, on
     a city street
     at the corner of Boulevard
     and Montricher, right
near the tram line,
     was built in honor of
          the construction of Canal

                    de Marseille
               that would

     bring water
          from the Durance
River to the city. Started in 1839,
               it took thirty years

to build.
     Ornate statuary, four bathing bulls,

          three women above them
               (the one on the left

holding clusters of grapes and
          a wine goblet, the one on the

right, sheaves of wheat. And in the
     center “the river,”

          taller, with
     her arm wrapped around

               a scepter, and her foot resting
          on a water jug), stalactites
and nymphs in
     a stone grotto,

          pools pouring into pools, pouring
into pools, into the elaborate
          “chateau d’eau,” the fountain, the water
               castle. A bottle
of moisturizer
     poured over a woman’s head.
          * * *
                    I finally read the
          warning label

for one of my
     meds. It says,

               For God’s sake,
don’t bleed. Doesn’t that
               mean I won’t
          be getting
     a clot? Heparin has the highest
     negative charge density
of any known biological molecule. Just
          Deep veins of ore,
     underground rivers,
the worms, mud burrowers, like
          the parchment worm,
     that live down
          there and never come up

some without
even an air hole.
          Beneath the ocean,
               the Mariana Trench.           

My friend Barbara said
     she snorkeled into
               a cave. She said
she’s claustrophobic—
     occasions for
               letting go,
     occasions for
                    leaning upon
               a power
     greater than
               Higher power gushing,
          or is it that

          other thing
     that’s gushing,
          and h.p.
that’s raining down
               on the cool
     marble of
          Palais Longchamp,
                    the beautiful immutable
               figures. Remember
Cynthia.  How
     she finally took
               me aside
     at the writer’s
          conference.  Like
               the fact that she
               was from West
     Virginia and drove
          a BMW needed
explaining? She said
     she’d struck
oil totally out of the blue
     in her back yard;
          it just kind of
bubbled up
     sounds like
          in the bramble
               and the thicket.
And became rich
          somewhat. Bought
                    a chain of
That it had been
     a hard
          adjustment. All that
               ease and
     privilege. In front
               of friends, of
Gushing. That
          woman with
     her hands on my
          husband.  Me, up
     until I found out what
          a rabid right-wing freak
he was (thank God), touching
          the hell out
               of the revolting, gorgeous
          bald guy—
               or wanting
     the man
          with the whisker.
               The speaker in the
          meeting said when he relapsed
     the beer
rushed through him
     like a shock
          wave. He was
          an electrician. He said

he knew what
     a charge was.


Dana Roeser is the author of three books of poetry. The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed was published in 2014 by the University of Massachusetts Press as winner of the Juniper Prize. It was named by Library Journal as one of “Thirty Amazing Poetry Titles for Spring 2014,” by Baltimore City Paper in the “Top Ten Poetry of 2014,” and as a 2014 IndieFab Book of the Year Award Finalist. In the Truth Room (2008, University Press of New England/Northeastern Univ. Press) and Beautiful Motion (2004, UPNE/Northeastern University Press) both won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. For Beautiful Motion, Roeser was awarded The Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellowship; In the Truth Room was nominated for the 2010 Poets’ Prize. Roeser received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Poetry, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Seneca Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Antioch Review, Green Mountains Review, The Florida Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Sou'wester, Laurel Review, Southern Review, Southwest Review, Mississippi Review, Verdad, Pleiades, Shenandoah, Notre Dame Review, Indiana Review, Sou’wester, The Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics (as well as several other anthologies), and other venues. Roeser has taught in the graduate MFA in Poetry programs at Purdue, Butler, and Wichita State Universities. For more information, please see www.danaroeser.com.