About the Feature

Photo by simonsimages

for Shane McCrae

Once again I barely
grazed the body, body
parts, I’m sorry—heel as
arrow forward sprung
for flight, how skull
bones knit with sutures
wander river-like
and beat with tidal pulse,
my own bones tense
with tightened muscles jamming
plates together aching through my
flesh held into shape to be a self
gone Fred Astaire as dancing lifts
him up against the tug of longing
earth that winds each spark of life down
toward itself. He floated up, or
how he made it look, but did he suffer
pain of flight like Prince, the dancer’s
foot, the horse flogged forward
for the race, the wings and straps
of muscle bending bone to fill
the will of someone else. He thought we
didn’t know we all had died. In my home,
where I was born but don’t belong, a man
cut off the golden foot of the conquistador
atop his horse, a wound bleeding back
through four hundred years of breathing
beings holding history in cellular
formations, how he raised that night
the pulse of Sky
City men decreed
to lose one foot, the right to
live intact, a body formed for its own
joyful will to lift up
off the earth, the way that Europe’s
nineteenth century elites believed
the bird of paradise came floating
down and had no need for feet
because it came into their hands
as only skin and feathers, claws chopped off
as useless, ugly cargo, and the people
of New Guinea, not collected
in this manner, left with their own myth
of men and birds so named by Europeans
Paradise, a word that at its root means
wall, surrounded
by a fence, this bird—
cut off from forest
flesh it shared with human, ape,
the cassowary, singing
dog, the birdwing butterfly,
echidna—its own forty
feathered species brought
as amputated pieces
of a jungle body never held
by European eyes as anything
but floating mythic creatures, impossible
for life on earth, and not the
incarnation in that other human
story of the male who moves
in forest flesh from boy
to manhood in the glory
of his gender feathers radiant
with youth and flesh and lust—
a mythic, gorgeous, threatened
state. The Europeans killed
the birds who gathered in their trees to mate—
stubborn in their attempts, not moved
by gunshots or the bodies falling
down around them, an easy group
to shoot—and shipped the
feathers back for hats—how
human corpses always long for other
body parts to keep up faith
with rot. He thought we didn’t
know we all had died, but whole
ghost generations crossed
the ocean just
to dress up death to make it
seem like life.

About the Author

Allison Cobb is the author of After We All Died (Ahsahta Press, a finalist for the National Poetry Series), Green-Wood (Factory School); Plastic: an autobiography (Essay Press EP series), and Born2 (Chax Press). The poet Carolyn Forché calls After We All Died “inventive, visionary, hard-thought, and impossible to put down.”