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A poem by Nicholas Laughlin

Published in The Strange Years of My Life
and previously in Almost Island, Winter 2011


Small husband, I have been longing for you,
parched and hugging my tinder heart.
This afternoon too tranced and hot,
dusk too cautious and hot and silent,
night reluctant, each hot hour
holding its breath, what is it waiting to hear?

Small husband, you hide among the ants,
you wait among the thorns, your eyes green as the setting sun,
a heartbeat hunting a red stone under the leaves,
electroplectic fidget.
Small husband, is this where you will drink?

Small husband, I too sleep alone,
tied to myself, limb to limb to limb,
a hitch of grass and hair and string,
weighed in the earth of my bed, cold and red.

Small husband, I too never sleep
in the loud night, the night like a bed of stone,
each star like a pebble flung to glass.

Small husband, you watch at dawn,
you call like a necklace of cold water in the rocks,
raincloud in your throat, a song like drowning,
breath battling the dark drag of desire,
a song of names that cannot be pronounced or repeated.
Small husband, I want to follow you
up the scarlet ladder of your throat,
the thread you snag from leaf to leaf
with knots to show I cannot follow on,
a shivering string that snags too in my wrist.

My little king,
I dream you crouch in my thighs and watch through my eyes
the failed flight of my hands,
you creep in my shirt and your claws clutch tight in my lungs
so I breathe in winces, like a bird.

Small as you are,
small husband,
is there room in your breast for me,
a sprout of green,
for a long mystery, a great fire,
an arrow, an echo,
a story,
a solstice,

The “small husband” of the final section of poems in The Strange Years of My Life is at once an alter ego, a nemesis, a sort of animal familiar. Roitelet — literally, “little king” — is a common name in French for the wren, known in folklore as the king of the birds, thanks to a very old fable. (In Spanish, “wren” is reyezuelo; in German, Zaunkönig; in Dutch, winterkoninkje: all little kings.) The Eurasian wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is a distinct species from the house wren (
Troglodytes aedon) found throughout the New World, a pair of which once nested outside my bedroom window. Since these are poems and not ornithological notes, I’ve conflated the two birds in order to borrow a few elements of the folkore associated with the former. I’ve always felt great affection for little birds like the wren. I keep an old British farthing (with a wren on the reverse) on my desk.

Richard ffrench’s Birds of Trinidad and Tobago calls the house wren “a very confiding species” and describes its song as “a brilliant, loud, warbling series, usually with a trill in the middle and ending with a rise in pitch, e.g., tsee-tsee-toodle-oodle-tooee.... This species is one of the first to sing at dawn and will sing at night if disturbed.” ffrench records “God-bird” as one of its local vernacular names.    



Read more poems by Nicholas Laughlin