Matthew Wimberley

Pantoum Holding an Extinct Bird

I have touched the last proof of a concept—
Ivory Billed Woodpecker, specimen in a drawer.
My father, slag-ash, carbon, rising
through the air like a fury of wings.

Ivory Billed Woodpecker, specimen in a drawer,
diminishes into an old light
through the air like a fury of wings.
The silence one horizon tells another

diminishes into an old light.
It is early, the mountain insouciant—
the silence one horizon tells another,
a taciturn boy standing over a body.

It is early, the mountain insouciant.
I touch the last proof of a concept—
a taciturn boy standing over a body,
my father—slag-ash, carbon, rising.



To a Stranger Lost in the Country

To go back
you will follow
along the plank fence
where the three horses grazing
the silver grass a half mile
from town will stand all night
and listen for the moment
their hooves become sleep.
Below them
the road winds into town
and the shadows
of clouds proceed you
like hearses
over everything
and you are empty
and so wish to be like them
little by little.
Beside the crossroads
in a Circle K parking lot
your lips crack in the cold
as you pump 87 unleaded
into your truck
breathing in
the vapors of gasoline
from the nozzle
and filling a pot hole—
iridescent and smooth
like the skin
of an extinct bird
in a museum—
beautiful, ignored.
You shove your hands
in your pockets
watching the salt truck
pass ahead of the first ice
and inhale the winter:
diesel exhaust of school buses
and poplar smoke.
Again you see the cashier
mopping the grease
off the floor underneath
the spinning hot dog tray
and notice how she
turns her head
as if searching her reflection
in the tin metal
for some sickness
which will be her end
and she could be dancing
if there were music
and not the crunch of gravel,
and the thud of fuel through the line.
You had to come back
and see how it’s changed
by staying the same
like sunlight
on the brown surface of a pond.
To see clear—
even as the fog thickens
before you—
you’ll have to go inside
and stare back at her
and become her
in the thin fluorescence
of the store. Don’t ask me why.
Suddenly your hands will feel thin
and the bra wire
worked through the fabric
will cut at your skin
and you’ll taste the dry lipstick
smeared at one corner of your mouth.
Then, you’ll watch
a stranger get into the truck
and disappear
as you kneel over the bucket
of mop water
as if for a moment you remembered
a life you left behind and it presses
against your temples
and then you feel the sharpness
in your stomach
and hear the lice
clicking in your hair
and then like that stranger
the feeling is gone
and outside nothing moves.
Your life drifts by you. You stock the aisles
then hunch over the register
waiting for the early hours
to worry loose the mountains
from the sky. You take the cash
handed across the counter
and go home with ink and silver foil
caught under your nails.
As for me? I left
it all behind and planned
on keeping my distance—
like a junkie trying to stay clean.
But curiosity of what might be spun
around me like the nests
of webworms
and so I come back
as a witness and to live.
You might see me
down the road, a little sleep
caught in my eyes
thinner and tired still gazing
at the horses rehearsing
their blessings to the ageless
meadow and I will catch
your stare and let you
become me the way
light becomes the laurel
and you will take your time
and at last be home.


Matthew Wimberley grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His chapbook Snake Mountain Almanac was selected by Eduardo C. Corral as the winner of the 2014 Rane Arroyo Chapbook Contest from Seven Kitchens Press. Winner of the 2015 William Matthews Prize from the Asheville Poetry Review, and a finalist for the 2015 Narrative Poetry Contest. He was selected by Mary Szybist for the 2016 Best New Poets Anthology, and his writing has appeared in The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review Online, Narrative, Orion, The Paris-American, Poet Lore, Rattle, Shenandoah, Verse Daily, and others. Wimberley received his MFA from NYU where he worked with children at St. Mary's Hospital as a Starworks Fellow.