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Three Poems by Samari Zysk

the birds, the birds

for aster, what i think of around you

– wings rushing up in a massive unfolding, reshaping. we all relearn as adults how to breathe. our whole bodies change shape as we age, communicating in some way how our minds have done so as well. taking up space is a language – there are so many words we understand, but can’t quantify.

– a kiss of black pressed to a cloud. do you think birds know each feather on their wings? i don’t know my own name for what it is on my tongue, on your tongue in a spoken tongue where it’s buried inside as if it was breathing as if it had lungs and my name was a secret sigh. aren’t we all? names are the only release we have for our i’s and me’s. birds don’t think about that.

– remember when they swarmed over the water and they mangled their own reflections in the lake? how it must feel to be so free! but am i not? in naming myself, in knowing my freedom or knowing its absence i bind it to my wrists and arms. “free” across my veins like cuffs.

– i used to think i was a bird inside; maybe there is still one in me somewhere. how does it breathe inside my ribs? i can feel it fluttering around my voice, against my throat. but, surely it must have died. sometimes, when i am close to sleep, i imagine what that bird looks like: long beak, sparkling eyes, a swallow’s tail. when did i swallow this swallow? i wonder. i open my mouth in the darkness and a beak emerges from beneath my teeth and it doesn’t hurt to speak like i think and to pretend to be something fiercely gentle pretend i exist pretend that i can fly and that the swallow inside me is me – when did i

swallow myself?

– unlocking themselves over and over, diving into the long sweet grasses and back out again. what lives inside the woods and do the birds know its name? i touch my throat when i talk to feel for the shape of my words. how do you quantify something so close to you that it feels so big and like it’s everything you are and maybe you never were until you feel a hand on your hand and then you are there, in that

moment, too.

in those moments, i am a swallow again. i emerge from my own throat and speak in my own voice.

what am i saying?


you don’t have to think to dream, speak to know who you are.


any time anything happens, the skin around my fingernails sheds and blushes

manacled by my anxious teeth, my lips chafe and swell

i am really so cacophonous, doesn’t anyone

understand that? there’s too much swirling

around my head – charybdis has nothing on me

get it all off, it’s too much

i’m a false idol made of wood, an imitation at best

travesty at worst, of

something i never even dared to look at

get it all off, or burn it, i am

the stretch of skin over achilles’ ankle

screaming with life and inevitability

transforming into a wound

will i ever heal from being seen as i am?

maybe i am not so loud, it’s just that

i don’t understand what i am trying to say

wind-up toy soldier

can you remind me where this sentence ends

the place where it flutters and lands on the surface of the page

like a duck on the white pond water where these

words live?

or where this sentence a court-ordered sentence

spent in a penthouse whose walls wept in silence


because my tongue has been spinning this sentence like a cherry stem

or a song

all the way out of the doors to my cage

but i’m forgetting, oh dear, please tell me

where does the period go?

otherwise i’ll just keep talking

because i’ve discovered that i have

numerous tongues

and they seemed to grow like leaves in springtime

when my winter ended

and there was no frost to kill their budding words

so remind me where there’s a


because this sentence is a wind-up toy soldier

who just keeps marching on plastic feet

who forgot the rhythm of walking

tell me when to stop

please tell me when

t o

st op

tell me




Samari Zysk is a queer Jewish poet who is a second-year MFA student at Mills College. You can find their work in Ghost City Review, Survivor Lit, and Horse Egg Literary, among others. They currently live in Olympia, Washington.

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