after Kara Walker
An angel stands in a bowl of ice,
the birds that bathed around her
absent now or tucked together under eaves.
Because it is December in Virginia,
some oaks are studded with mistletoe
you can see if you see it
from a distance, shape-shifting,
clusters backlit by slanted light.
One tree is dying of it
behind the reconstructed gallows
where we give our children history lessons.
I dream of shooting some down
with one of my father’s many guns,
a great big crown of white berries
and leaves so green they are black.
Advent calendar doors swing open.
A stray shows up at my mother’s house,
a head-shy pit the men,
who will not allow her to keep it,
run off, vowing worse if it returns.
Perhaps it is better to let it starve,
belly full of worms and boot-cap bruises.
Pit mixes are put down quickly at the pound.
Is there an incinerator?
A truck dumping broad-jawed mutts,
limp as quilts, into the landfill?
My cousin once bought a stripper he loved
a cockatiel, its feathers the pale yellow
of old-fashioned layettes.
I hope that bird is still alive somewhere,
having been sold and resold
the way the gold we wear today
could have once been a medallion
on Montezuma’s chest,
outliving us all, outliving the links
in that girl’s belly-chain
and everyone tamed by Suboxone,
our bodily miasma contained
by an orderly world, a last dignity
we won’t give a damn about.