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Four Poems
The Flight Cage

After so many years of abbreviated sky, the new bird 
is cast from the bars of its former cage. 

What’s left of the aviary is the no longer boy, 
a soldier unable to exit a door he never entered. 

He drops off the kids, puffs out his little adopted cloud 
into Nevada. Some of it stays inside him, 

the hugely never of Nevada. The lattice 
between the species begins to curve. 

It coats his lungs. He begins his tour of duty, 
flicks on the computer, the only window 

in the operation room, eye of the new bird 
which has none. He sleeps with his own half open, 

holding the bird with his invisible string, 
as if the war were not unkind. The casualties—

what is a casualty if not swallowed 
by its facelessness—the digital idea of death

comes flapping across the water. The blood
can be viewed from a satellite, the way that 

mourning spills immediately through the minus
sign, through the semblance of a bowl. 



In the dream you have given me
you’re standing on a raft
in the middle of a lake—
it’s not so hard to fall in love
with you. You’re holding
my latest X-ray, asking
have I been sleeping okay?
I know you think I’m one of them,
they woke to slow erasures,
but honestly I’m fine.

Here I am, under my perpetual
umbrella, raising a glass to how
I’m lagging. The boys
are breaking into foam again,
as if their bodies were also
your invention. Your instructions
were easy enough to follow—
you hid them at the bottom of the lake.

This restlessness is a weather
neither one of us can describe.
If you look close enough,
the opposite of desire begins
to shiver. You’re holding it
in your hands. The sky takes off
its roundness and I’m swimming
towards it and you’re not
and I won’t when I belong.


Dear Documentary, 

If I were to be blindfolded you 
could speak to me. To begin,
press your head against a window.
Erase the words I have written there
with your hair and your
saliva. I am waiting for it.
How the rain regrets nothing,
each window is a breath
I offer you. A prayer
is nobody else’s

A winged mournful
braiding north or nothing in
to want. The sky
another word for elsewhere.

The sun is doing some damage, 
said Leslie, but all doing 
comes back to zero. The people
who live behind the newspapers
don’t live there anymore. 
The light erases
headlines from the sleep
of those who sleep
in their vocabulary.

Did you ever live there,
the people I wanted you 
to be? My friend the historian 
taught me your name but 
there was too much static
on the telephone. Can I call you
Palimpsest? I am your friend, 
my words are bent and
illegible. The ghosts
cross Balboa Street
in clean diagonal lines.

All wet things 
concede to gravity. See
that lady adjusting her ponytail
in the reflection of the bus shelter.
That young man
who walked around the block,
I used to sell him groceries,
and that woman
is she his mother?

And now the traffic 
gets in the way. Our faces
fit so perfectly inside a square
and the banners go floating
up in yellow. The body’s
four directions. 


The Bathers

there is a concrete groove chewed into us. river. as if us were
             prior. sedimentary. 
I have put off my garment, how shall I put it on?1 pronoun as if 
             a prehistoric. 
we might touch it by rolling down the window. the surface 
             pins its name 

on each approaching gesture. and were not ashamed. land: 
             a place to land. 
a channel for water to be water but less than flood. it steals 
             the gray from scarp. 
color of emptiness. and grinds it. arrow to never the flora
             of traffic. particulates

of ash. how like a confession. it shows the sky our daily 
             hunger and our 
aimlessness. we believed our city a sad acknowledgment 
             of water’s brevity. 
the muck of it. you were naked in the sight of all. the peril 
             of being water 

under so much so soon. fire. more naked than gravity. 
             we pulled it 
over our head. the stain of who was fledgling. as if we 
             slipped into our body 
the moment it was occupied. the moment it was river. 
             as if the precedent 

returned and thickened into somehow. fire reveals so little 
             of its surroundings. 
for a while we wore it around our neck. and were not ashamed
             more naked 
than the mind in us. could it be the least human part of us.
             how beauty lacks 

intention and this is why the body. you were naked. as if a kite
             floating somewhere 
above the mind. the doctrine of a well-considered life. 
             for nothing perceivable
was handed over to us.
2 coiled arrows of craving. of river
             to be river. 

ground beneath the ground harbored the string of it. the weeds 
             pushed through their bright. 
you were naked in the sight of all. their levitating streaks of 
             anyway. inevitably. 
our hand went up and down. a kind of pulley. the red proof
             of desire. 

as if we stepped out of the body in us. which is always the color
             of lights in certain cities.
the creature in us. for nothing perceivable was handed over to us.3
             we pulled it over 
our head. a key attached to red elastic. stiff white towel. bottle 
             of antiseptic. 

a sacrament. you were led to the holy pool. again and again. it leaves
             an indelible seal. 
it cannot be repeated say the fathers. but what of the myriad 
             inside the fiction 
of skin. the envelope. those things, which were done by you
             in the inner chamber. 

total immersion of the myriad. each the other’s bishop. 
             red weaverbird 
peeling off its feathers. an arrow to never the wrongness. 
             our body was clothed 
in a color that could only be removed in sex. the ghost in us 
             was multiplying. 

1.Except where indicated, all quotes in italics are taken from Cyril of Jerusalem, “On the Mysteries of Baptism,” c. 350 AD.
2.St. John Chrysostom to Matthew, speech 82, 4, c. 390 AD.

Brent Armendinger’s most recent book is Street Gloss (The Operating System), a hybrid work of site-specific poetry and experimental translation, featuring Argentinian writers Alejandro Méndez, Mercedes Roffé, Fabián Casas, Néstor Perlongher, and Diana Bellessi, and drawings by Alpe Romero. He is also the author of The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying (Noemi Press), a finalist for the California Book Award in Poetry. He began "The Afterforest" as a daily ritual of sitting with trees at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks. Brent teaches creative writing at Pitzer College and lives in Los Angeles.