Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SLEEP OF WOOD IN THE HOUSE OF WRENS, by GEORGE LOONEY

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First Line: It's not the wrens but the girl in overalls and a blouse
Subject(s): Birds; Sleep; Wrens

It's not the wrens but the girl in overalls and a blouse,
his daughter, he talks to cutting and sanding the wood
to build the perfect houses the wrens will only come to
if he doesn't paint them. He used to paint them, red
and green, and they stayed unvisited until they rotted
into gray and fell off for weeks in pieces she'd pick up
to save, because it seemed to her, let's say, something
needed to be saved. Nothing was. But the splinter
that festered in her finger from one of the gray shards,
the one she didn't tell her father about but pinched
and pushed until she gave up and let it rot its way
into her blood, that dead wood went dormant. Sleep
infected her yeas later, in another state, where wrens
had so many houses built for them the were transient,
their song a reminder that everything just keeps going
and then is gone. Like that shop thick with the refuse
of wood, like the garden with wrens singing Oklahoma
into a state where a man who once drove a truck could
landscape his backyard into a paradise hummingbirds
and wrens and blue jays stopped to dance in. When heat
was the worst, they'd bathe in the soil that was dry
because the town wouldn't let him keep his garden wet
when it looked like there wouldn't be enough water
for people to drink in town. Even the drunks, singing
in harsh voices, took their whiskey straight, sacrifice
an angel that grapples with us beside many rivers,
even forgotten ones that have gone to dust. Can we
expect the wrens to live in graying wood and sing,
or a woman with gray wood budding in her
heart and liver and cerebellum to wake up after
only eight hours? The sleep of wood is much longer
than the sleep of flesh. And wrens, they sleep minutes
at a time. Building houses, the man breathes
in the dust blossoming in the air from the sander
and coughs, and the wood turned dust rises enough
to cling in his daughter's hair and, not singing
but becoming song in the humid air, turns her into
a woman even the most invisible wrens could live in.

First published in The Kenyon Review, Volume 22 #2 Spring 2000.

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