Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal

The boy sits at the kitchen table
pointing through the window at the dark.
There is a bird that comes at night, he says,
that makes the most beautiful music.
Steam off the edges of the field, the gray
and brown and green of it and beyond this, the sea.
What does he hear?  I imagineit is a nightingale, but have never heard one.
The look on the boy’s face as he speaks
is the sound of a nightingale.  It is the song
of a man strapped to his mast, straining
and tearing at the straps that bind him.
A small breeze moves off the sea.
It whistles over the shore, the dark
seal shapes that rock in and out
of the shoals. It hums there
till one of them turns long-necked, broken
and the clothes pull off like hair
as the divers drag the changed body
out of the sea. The field is wet and full of stars.
The boy cocks his head toward the dark.
I watch him moving back and forth
inside my vision, his body pieces of eye
and silk and arm and neck cord.
In the story, the man binds himself
so that he can listen.  He wants to hear
the music that will pull him down.
He wants to put his head where the heart lives,
that small, hard singing behind a ribcage.
Night cuts down through the field. In spring,
the mists will burn off, the sea return bright green.
I have never seen such a live, dead thing before.
I think it is a nightingale.  I tell the boy the name,
but he only smiles at me.
And yet, how is it not a nightingale?
Alone, the soft grunt of wings
beating behind me.  I can sense its gold eye,
the throat encrusted with glass.
I can hear the water slapping
the white sides of the shore.
The boy stares out the kitchen window.
It hangs like a little square of cold before him,
a pane of shadow. The night outside this shadow
is black. The sea is distant. The bird,
however I imagine it, sings.

To learn more about Paisley Rekdal, visit her website by clicking here or her page on the Poetry Foundation’s website by clicking here.

This poem comes from Paisley Rekdal’s book Animal Eye. Click here to purchase.

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Below is the scene Max mentioned from the 1954 Kirk Douglas film “Ulysses.”


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