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Miguel Hernández, Madrid, 1934

ISSUE:  Summer 2005

Before his father turned back from the news to tend
the goats’ predictable appetites in the stony yard,

before the exiled breath hissed from Miguel’s teeth
in the last of his prisons, before even the first water

ached his lungs and the one long needle’s pierce
and pull spread air deeply in his chest again,

before the photograph of his own son burst into wings
under the warden’s hand, wafted skyward, tinsel and ash,

before his wife suckled their son, little lark, on whatever
milk her body could dredge from its meal of onions,

before the late poems led to a last, and everything
asked of him was given, or given up,

Miguel clambered into a tree’s branches arched over
a bustled city street to sing for another poet,

poor man, who’d only heard a nightingale’s song
in poems, in words, in the tink and hollow plunk

of syllables tossed in a pauper’s cup; climbed
—Madrid below him tilted as if reeling,

its many eyes snapped back and staring up—
to breathe in the city falling silent, the city

that would fall, given time, to the army rooting
through the provinces, but not now, not this moment

pocketed in his lungs, a private currency
stamped with the inverted sprawl of wings

his lips purse to pay out as wordless song—


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