Rare Birds — Shelley Wong

Women After Midnight
          after Christian Marclay

The red minute hand insists we sleep or commit to our rendezvous plans. On a deserted street, a woman exits the Opera House, clicking her heels toward me in a single long shot. Tick tick. It’s our secret. Who is calling at this hour? A dark-haired man kisses Michelle Pfeiffer’s spine with precision in digital clock light. Another man deletes a gagged woman from the closet. The camera says nothing. In black-and-white time, women sleep with painted mouths clasped shut like purses. A lamp comes on. For god’s sake, it’s two AM. Brigitte Bardot enters the kitchen, still clad in her red bustier gown, and sells the milk. A girl crosses the grandfather clock and flees from her shadow of a headmistress or mother. A girl wakes up when my hands clench her soft neck as if it were a bell rope. She flails for the baseball bat, but this is her dream at 2:18. The black heels come off first. A woman hangs up the phone and lies in bed like a floral question mark. The ferry departs on the half hour. 2:35. You’re so pretty when you sleep.












Ghost Bird
          (text from a scientist’s explanation of the euthanization of a male moustached kingfisher, a rare bird)

                                        For a quarter century
                    [     ] edges
                                        Our field:

                          not just
                                        [     ]

                                        I have spent time
   I have watched [     ]

           in the [     ] brief
                       its heart

                          like all
                                        threats to [     ]

                              if not
   in the heavens: [     ]

             from [     ] of us
                                        the specters

                among them

                                        out into
                     the world

                              [     ]




Salt on the sidewalk so I am far
from home. Salts from mountains and seas
in silver tins. Like ash, like sand.
Mother still takes the salt
out of every recipe. My spirit animal
is a bird, but not a seagull. No trace
of salt or sugar in my sister’s
white apartment. When snow falls,
I fly west, walking into the water that raised me—
an ocean of unnamable salts. My lover brought salt
into my kitchen. Never seen black salt,
black sand. We drove to the beach
in all seasons: I remember the taste of brine
in our bed. Maybe I’m an ibis, maybe I’m a swan.


Shelley Wong is a Kundiman fellow who lives in Oakland, CA. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Vinyl, The Normal School, Linebreak, The Collagist, Ninth Letter Online, and Devil’s Lake. She is the recipient of a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and the 2014 Normal Prize for poetry in addition to scholarships from Fine Arts Work Center and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.