The Take Archives
August 29, 2018
By Robin Gow
The Divine Law
i went looking for Sodom & found soot,
the floor of the world: my grandmother’s ash tray.
as words for the wise, the angels always come
in disguise. their blue bodies & their bleached teeth.
knocking on the bathroom stall doors
at rest stops across arizona. the gas station:
the queer space takes over. paul echoing: men committing
shameless acts with other men. what can’t be purified
with fire? what i love about the story of the Sodomites
is how god burned us down & here we are. as far as i remember
we never read this story in church. the angels knock
at my bed room door & i don’t let them in because
i’m not hospitable. the unnatural children are often
born out of heat; cigarette buds growing legs to run.
we make our own angels. we build the city back.
here is where the sun goes, tweezers to sit it
back into our eyes. the men who survived are blind
but we tell them it looks beautiful, they caress stone
& weep. does it hurt when i touch you here?
the back seat of the car is a boulevard when you
lay down like that. there’s no angels there’s no angels,
only the sirens & Lot & his wife. They escaped the fire
& left us to our indulgence bodies. you burn me like brick,
like don’t forgive me father. each time we find each other
i turn off the light, we became blind men to build Sodom
back from the dirt. i take handfuls of you. stone &
sand. eyes closed, my hands through your hair, a forest,
all these skyscrapers. what a city, what a city.
our angels: fine dust, grit in your teeth,
the neon ceiling of the gas station bathroom.
As a queer person who was raised Catholic, a lot of my poetry seeks to splice together these two parts of myself. This specific poem started with a Google search “why is homosexuality a sin?” At the same time as I delved into biblical texts, I simultaneously drew from the memoirs of gay activists from Act Up during the AIDS Crisis, specifically David Wojnarowicz.
From the Poetry Editors
Robin Gow addresses the internal struggle of coming to terms with his personal lifestyle versus the beliefs taught to him. In the bible, angels are represented as spirits. Gow takes the spiritual representation a step forward turning these beautiful blue figures to metaphors for Catholic beliefs, their presence asserted. Gow takes this idea one step more in part 2 as the angels become incorporated into his own life, generating a new and different world where angels are more accepting. The juxtaposition between the biblical world, the created world “tweezered” together, and the real world emphasizes the emotional turns this poem takes.
August 15, 2018
By Robin Littell
The Man in the Tree
It wasn’t until late in the fall that I noticed a man living in the giant oak tree at the end of the road. The nest was lodged in the meeting of two massive limbs and had the shape of a bird’s nest, but between the layers of twig and vine, there were blue things. All shades of blue things. Blue strips of cloth and paper. Blue wire and blue plastic bags. Blue belts and blue rope. It was a veritable blue thing as much as a natural brown thing.
I can’t remember what led me there the day I discovered him. Maybe I had gone out for a walk to make one last stand before the approaching winter settled over the town and kept us inside. I only remember looking up, and he was sitting on the edge of the nest, peering down at me. His stare made me uncomfortable at first, but eventually he took interest in other birds passing by or gray clouds floating through the sky, heavy with precipitation. I watched him for a long time. His feet curled around the braided twigs like talons. He picked at something on his arms, like a bird preening its feathers.
I contemplated calling someone. The man might need help. He might be ill. I listened to the winds pick up outside, thinking about the sturdiness of the nest and its capacity to withstand the elements. I thought about how he got in and out of the nest. What he ate. Where he went to the bathroom. How he kept warm. The nest was an engineering marvel, something that would surely dominate the news, at least for a while. Maybe even draw professors from the nearby university to our quiet little neighborhood. I imagined them camped out in tents underneath the trees with Moleskin notebooks and worn-down pencils, their glasses sliding to the ends of their noses, documenting the birdman’s every move. But mostly I thought about what it would be like to live so high up, seeing the world from above, seeing everything all at once, watching the world attend to itself.
A few nights after I first saw the birdman, the temperature dropped and winds ushered in a dusting of snow. I gathered up a few sweaters my ex-boyfriend had left behind in a closet, put them in a garbage bag, and set them between the exposed roots of the tree, but the next morning the bag of sweaters was still there, unopened. The man was sitting on the edge of the nest, a kind of feathery blanket draped around his shoulders, his knees tucked up tight to his chest. I watched him for a long time, hoping to make eye contact. Instead, he hopped down into the nest, away from me.
The next day, I took a bag of sunflower seeds to the tree. He was perched on the edge of the nest again, and turned his head toward me, moving it around with sharp, abbreviated jerks, as if this allowed him to see me from all angles.In the morning the seeds were gone, so I continued to bring various concoctions of nuts and seeds, granola and dried fruit, anything I had on hand that I thought a man-bird would eat. Eventually I began making trips to the store for special mixes, excitement building in my chest as I paid the cashier and drove home to create a small basket of goodies for him.
I put more clothes out, but he never took them. He only took the food. I wrote notes on strips of paper and tucked them inside the pouches of seeds. Did you know that the bowerbird builds u-shaped nests decorated with blue objects to attract mates? I wrote on one note. On another I wrote: One bowerbird built such an elaborate blue bower that it was taken to a museum after the bird abandoned it and put on display. The bird was credited as the artist. On another I wrote in blue ink:The indigo plant is actually a member of the legume family (the same as peas!). The birdman and I went on like this for months.
When the days became warm, I sat under his tree at sunset, and shortly after I arrived, he would pop up on the edge of the nest, directly over me. Sometimes the shell of a sunflower seed dropped quietly into the grass beside me. Or blue things fell from the tree, like bits of silvery-blue wrapping paper, a piece of sky-blue yarn, a square of royal blue material. I picked up the blue and tucked it in my pocket while we watched the sun melt into shades of the deepest indigo. I became used to his company, the quiet knowledge of his presence above me, the subtle way we shared the end of a day. I walked home when the sky was dark trying to think of interesting things to write on the next day’s note, wondering if I should ask if I could come up to the nest and watch the sunset with him.
Several nights later, a fierce thunderstorm pounded against the windows. The panes trembled and lit up with brilliant flashes of white light. I sat on the couch huddled underneath a blanket, waiting for it to pass, and once it had, I ran down to the tree barefoot, splashing through the puddles left by the storm. The nest was lying upside down in the grass under the tree, broken twigs jutted from its sides and a few littered the ground around it, but the structural integrity of it was intact, just like the Robin’s nests I occasionally found at the base of the young trees in my yard. I lifted it, my chest fluttering like pale moths under a street lamp, and peered underneath. He was gone, but inside the nest were splashes of all the blues that ever existed. A sculpture made of blue.
But more startling than the empty nest was the collapsible ladder in a tangle a few feet from it. Littered around the tree were grease-stained bags from Mike’s Burger Barn. An empty bag with the receipt still in it stuck to the jagged end of a broken branch showed the recent purchase of a book called The Hidden Life of Birds. A down jacket dangled a few feet about me, caught on the broken end of a branch, its arm hanging loosely toward the ground and little white feathers escaping from the gash in its chest.
I wadded up the receipt and tossed it to the ground, the skies grumbling and building balloons of black clouds behind me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small piece of bright blue tile the birdman had dropped during our last sunset and rubbed it clean between my thumb and first finger. It was a shade of blue I’d never seen. So icy-bright it glowed against my skin. I slipped it back in my pocket and ran for home as cold pelts of rain sank into my shirt. As I ran, my eyes scanned the ground along the way for fragments of blue, but only gray stormwater rushed for the drains.
“The Man in the Tree” was partially inspired by my interest in the meaning of colors after reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. In one book or another, I came across mention of the bower bird, and I began thinking about the idea of a human building a nest decorated with blue to attract a mate, just as the bird does. I also write about women who long for something — love, intimacy, connection. This story came to life at the intersection of color, longing, and an attraction to the image of the giant nest (not to mention, a general fascination with birds). Just this past spring, I found a robin’s nest on the ground, and the robin had woven thin blue strips of plastic bag among the twigs inside the nest. I was instantly reminded of why I loved this story so much.
From the Fiction Editors
As an editor, you’re always looking for a narrative you’ve never seen before, and we’d certainly never seen a story quite like “The Man In The Tree” in our inbox before. The first word that comes to mind when you look at this piece is fresh. The idea of a “man-bird” in a tree is new and engaging; every sentence punches the readers’ senses; the repeated use of blue is never cliche; and the twist ending is so unexpected yet perfectly complex. This piece wakes the reader up with its originality. It certainly opened up our eyes.
August 1, 2018
By William Chatterson
Poor Man’s Living Will
When I go
Give my hammers and buckets
Hatchets and hard hats
To any man that needs them
Or any woman, better yet
Take my spine
A silver snake
Once used to stand up walls and close in rooms
Take my back
Give it to the cripple
That he may hoist up the sky
My feet? They’re no good
Dead and flat with narrow ankles
A pebble can roll me to the ground
I hid this flaw all my life
Wearing high leather boots
Take my eyes and give them to some squinting kid
Make her a hunter who sees the eagle
Skimming a perch from the lake
Scraped by saws, trounced by trucks, rocked by guitars
Take that pair of scrapped sense to recycling
And melt it down
My legs, now that’s a different matter
Give them to anyone who wanders lost
I’ll show them the way
When I go
Give my hands to my children
Palms up with lines and scars
Showing I did it just for them
When I go
Don’t leave my body in a box
Feed it to the wheel of life
Don’t come back to a cold tombstone and wonder
How was it for him?
You know I did what I had to do
As you’ll have to do too
When I go
Take my wooden long bow
And shoot a flaming arrow over a night darkened northern lake
With stars so proud and quiet
And roots of trees expanding
Let the world see me one last time
As I might have been
As I was for a few moments
A good will protects the property of those who die from confiscation or legacy problems. But what about people who have nothing: what could they leave? Everyone leaves something. This question inspired “Poor Man’s Living Will.” Since I’ve worked in the trades for many years, I drew on my experience and imagined if I had nothing conventional to leave behind, i.e. a house, money, etc., what would I want to leave?
From the Poetry Editors
This poem feels built by hand, word fitted to word, rather than composed at a desk or laptop. Chatterson artfully uses his own body to tell his life story. With startling imagery and plain-spoken diction, he creates a song of himself — his no-good feet, his useless ears, and his eyes still keen enough to spot a distant eagle. His rhythm and cadence are so steady, you want to sing out the lines. After the last two stanzas, we’re left wanting to be counted among his friends.