top of page

John James

His Angels Especially Amaze the Birds



Now we seek to investigate and to know,

And wonder at the things beyond our vision

Or pause at the wax overriding the lens.

Junkies in the barn with their hollowed-out veins

Slept in each other’s arms until one morning

One woke up and the other just didn’t.

And she stayed that way, huddled in the dust,

The accumulating rags, until someone dialed

The police, though at that point, in the heat,

It had been three days. And I wonder, in his fever,

In his mescaline haze, if her lover maybe

Hadn’t noticed she was dead, and sulked

In the dirt, gazing open-eyed at the rafters

Which framed the angels overhead, their dazzling

Trumpets and their wings. Looking up,

The roof, kaleidoscopic, turned. And so

The fanciful objects danced and combined

With one another, and the angels took on

The movements of a tractor and adopted rakes

For their staffs. When the cops arrived,

It was all that they could do to wrap her body

In a bag, perhaps to lend some dignity,

Or at least to cover the smell. Sometimes,

Looking up at the sky, or along the barn wall

Flanked with grass, I imagine the long stretch

Of hours, the repeated doses, through which

He maintained the angels and their wings.

For three days sweat rolled into his eyes

And he watched that comedy unfold above him

Like a film without a plot. Outside the clouds

Shifted and were gone. Sun shined over the trees

So their lashed trunks began to show.

Paramedics packed the bag into a truck

And pulled away. Honestly, I know nothing

Of the tortured boughs, the cut grass along the fence.

The world is an angel spinning circles in the barn.

But for those three days he didn't kiss her,

Didn't look down at what he maybe recognized

As the truth planted in the stillness of her face.

He just kept on staring, dazed, at the angels,

Now their wings aflame, now burning

Like desire and the rash between his legs,

His empty stomach and the dried skin along

His mouth. They burned, as if their wings

Were soaked in oil, until the feathers blackened

And their song crescendoed in the heat.

Until his blood, infused with the fire

Of the choiring angels, surged in his wrists.

And then the fever broke. The vision dissipated.

He noticed the sound of a wren outside the barn,

His hands covered with dirt, the woman who

Lay beside him and stopped breathing days before.

Still he lay there thinking, working out what to do,

Scanning the shoddy rafters for a sign from above.

And before the sirens, before anyone came

Beating on the barn door, he lay, eyes shut,

And listened, because he didn’t believe his eyes.

Didn’t trust them like he did even moments before.

He didn’t trust his ears or his tongue,

But he listened, and what he heard in the dark

Wasn’t a sign from above, nor an angel pressing

Her lips to his ear, not whispering hallelujahs

To the back of his neck. It was the low, distant,

Gathering voice of a wren, thrumming in the grass

Outside the barn and scanning the dirt for worms. 


bottom of page