How brightly you whistle, pushing the long soft
feathers on your rump down across the branch,
like the apron of a butcher, as you impale a cricket
on a meat hook deep inside my rhododendron.
Poor cricket can hardly stand the whistling,
not to speak of the brownish-red pecking
(couldn’t you go a little easy?), but holds up
pretty good in a state of oneiric pain.
Once, long ago, when they were quarrelling about money,
Father put Mother’s head in the oven.
“Who are you?” it pleaded from the hell mouth.
Upstairs in the bathroom, I drank water right out of the tap,
my lips on the faucet. Everything was shaking and bumping.
Earth was drawing me into existence.
‘Shrike’ is excerpted from Touch.
Chosen for FSG Poetry Month by Garth Greenwell.
Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and was raised in Virginia. The recipient of many awards, he is the author, most recently, of Touch (FSG, 2011), Pierce the Skin (FSG, 2010); Blackbird and Wolf (FSG, 2007); Middle Earth (FSG, 2003), a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and The Visible Man (FSG, 1998).