Ornithology

By Lynda Hull 1954–1994 Lynda Hull
Gone to seed, ailanthus, the poverty
   tree. Take a phrase, then
fracture it, the pods’ gaudy nectarine shades
      ripening to parrots taking flight, all crest
and tail feathers.
                           A musical idea.
                                                 Macaws
   scarlet and violet,
                               tangerine as a song
the hue of sunset where my street becomes water

and down shore this phantom city skyline’s
   mere hazy silhouette. The alto’s
liquid geometry weaves a way of thinking,
      a way of breaking
synchronistic
                     through time
                                        so the girl
   on the comer
                      has the bones of my face,
the old photos, beneath the Kansas City hat,

black fedora lifting hair off my neck
   cooling the sweat of a night-long tidal
pull from bar to bar the night we went
       to find Bird’s grave. Eric’s chartreuse
perfume. That
                   poured-on dress
                                          I lived days

and nights inside,
                           made love
and slept in, a mesh and slur of zipper

down the back. Women smoked the boulevards
   with gardenias after-hours, asphalt shower-
slick, ozone charging air with sixteenth
      notes, that endless convertible ride to find
the grave
               whose sleep and melody   
                                                 wept neglect
enough to torch us
                            for a while
through snare-sweep of broom on pavement,

the rumpled musk of lover’s sheets, charred
   cornices topping crosstown gutted buildings.   
Torches us still—cat screech, matte blue steel
      of pistol stroked across the victim’s cheek
where fleet shoes
                           jazz this dark
                                                 and peeling
block, that one.
                        Vine Street, Olive.
We had the music, but not the pyrotechnics—

rhinestone straps lashing my shoes, heels sinking
   through earth and Eric in casual drag,
mocha cheekbones rouged, that flawless
      plummy mouth. A style for moving,
heel tap and
                  lighter flick,
                                       lion moan
of buses pulling away
                               through the static
brilliant fizz of taffeta on nyloned thighs.

Light mist, etherous, rinsed our faces
   and what happens when
you touch a finger to the cold stone
      that jazz and death played
down to?
            Phrases.
                        Take it all
   and break forever—
                              a man
with gleaming sax, an open sill in summertime,

and the fire-escape’s iron zigzag tumbles
   crazy notes to a girl cooling her knees,
wearing one of those dresses no one wears
      anymore, darts and spaghetti straps, glitzy
fabrics foaming
                        an iron bedstead.
                                                 The horn’s
alarm, then fluid brass chromatics.
                                                    Extravagant
ailanthus, the courtyard’s poverty tree is spike
and wing, slate-blue
                               mourning dove,
                                                      sudden cardinal flame.

If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.

Lynda Hull, “Ornithology” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Lynda Hull. Used by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.Graywolf Press

Source: The Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Lynda Hull 1954–1994

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Relationships, Love, Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Lynda  Hull

Biography

Lynda Hull was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1954. Her collections include Ghost Money (1986), recipient of the Juniper Prize; Star Ledger (1991), which won the 1991 Carl Sandburg and 1990 Edwin Ford Piper awards; and The Only World: Poems, published posthumously in 1995 and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. In 2006, Graywolf Press published her Collected Poems, edited by her husband, David . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.