Heir Apparent

Issue #45 April 2017

Cette Terre Homicide (“This Land Homicide”) | Nikki-Lee Birdsey

Old flowers, bad flowers, the lilacs’

hue runs visibly, draining to a 0

even now as they sit on the glass table.

Etonnants voyageurs! My maroon mouth

knows nothing of this fit I repeat

daily: everything is hallowed.

Nowhere spelled backwards is a place

in New Zealand, in the crook that runs

down my muscle, in the slate sand,

in the cosmic perspective, in the

childhood spent on it, in the notes,

in the glowing lanes––

the space in the distance means

Pacific Ocean beyond the baked,

shimmering hills, that gold light

on my hair. Not her real name,

I said, on the musty moor

how it existed that day I stopped.

The twisted iron of the post-wetlands,

the bleached white bone-trunks, dense

and bare, how the gentle remnants of

golden, sickle leaves look more dead

in that tortuous mess, ‘man, like all

animals, is glass and can return to glass.’

Cette terre homicide. The landscape

in which you forget yourself. Rousseau’s

exile was hard on all of us.

  Erehwon, Erehwon


The natural rights of lovers are

bunk, that pink silt harvest I imagine

as the closing, suicidal weeks of war.

I went to you in Oamaru

the rusted railroad of the single line, promised

a train that never comes, but the ocean

always, always, always

that fear of inherited illness

to get lost on a winter’s night

there, snagged on the cobwebbed gorse.

Sphere of undoing, Oliver, you know,

death is easy.

This conversation is something about

compassion first thing in the morning,

but what will happen by night?

That gloaming. That bright edge

I see underneath the dim parking lot

this twilit, offensive eventide.

Before, what made that scale

of curvature, the gutted boulders

dotting into pine pockets and orchard

flats, the light dapples a circle

of stacked beehives and the shorn

mountains full of nothing dangerous.

But I am here with my fist full

of thistles, and the wind in my face

in the cluttered dark of New York;

there is always underneath

my sparse, reduced world,

my questions answered in

pasture, stone, sea. Brunelle,

are you French or German? you,

the plant that Rousseau translates as ‘self-heal.’

Give me a fucking break, because I

can see the softening, the yellowing

filling the alpine line in

the blue and young valleys.

What the eastern territory records.

How do you decipher that?

  Erehwon, Erehwon


We have codes, oaths, ceremonies,

last resorts, all brimmed and dimmed

in red and white silences.

We have problems and romance

the flit-sparrow keeling, its socketed

neck, the week of spring break.

We have performance anxiety pills,

them self-savagery, generation blues

bluing abstraction, amnesiac abstraction.

We have cicada husks, thunder things,

the blushed ivory prom dress nailed

to the thinning, painted door.

We have the lark in the sweet night,

we have mothers, les mères veuilleuses,

the night lights endless dark.

We have the marks of pain evident

on the female face of my face

in the incendiary moment,

the laws of similarity binding

contagious magic, the metaphor

bound on collision through the poem

of the unexpiated crime,

the idée fixe forced itself

upon me and revealed itself

and revealed nothing. What carrier-

wave of truer connection

organized itself in me?

We have all the earth splitting,

cette terre, cette jeunesse is enough to

renounce the old vocabularies.

Without a pack you are traveling

without protection; the filigree flowers;

you are not here.

  Erehwon, Erehwon


The thing that fixes you

is the thing that keeps you


The neon sign got its start

in the early 70s in New York City’s

most famous discos,

got its start down the street

in Ridgewood, Queens. Do you feel

my wandering, interrogative

tone? Or do you feel just

the bright destruction of

my thought process hanging

in the imbalance. In the dim

caves of discipline you find

no totality of experience, it

not possible to create a text

that reconstitutes itself by

playing out all its possible

parts + combinations; you

cannot feel the traces of

signification any longer.

This burnt collapse. There

is no moment of rescue

that time cannot warp or rent.

You find the poet Ben Lerner

using the phrase ‘hard, gem-like’

just as Walter Pater did in his

Renaissance, and just like you

did as an undergraduate, and a

few other times without citing it,

just as he did. What

reader’s history we share from

a liberal arts education

disgusts you for a second

amidst the plugging and unplugging

of computers and phones

in South Slope, you think of

Sebald’s lilac trees and Bohemian

forest, you let that thought save,

that internal adjustment a rebellion

from being seen. You wish it were raining

just now amidst that constant noise.

  Erehwon, Erehwon


Heavy water on the brain

this day. Dreaming of a reel

of road, like a ribbon drifting,

rising a gentle camber

in the North Island then

out to gushed cliffs, but

I am not there. It’s so simple.

To understand where memory

and sense intersect at instinct.

It’s so simple. The instability

of my impressions just desire

thwarted. Look at me walking

through the Brooklyn Botanic

Gardens on Mother’s Day,

the lilacs, the switch-grass,

ironweed, witch alder, smooth

hydrangea, southern monkshood.

The thing you can bear the most

is the empty concert hall built

as a Victorian greenhouse,

the cold frame of pale-green iron

and clear Dutch light, free of

crowds and damage and time, it’s

so simple, these locks and soft wares.

He who is willing to work

gives birth to his own father,

is what Kierkegaard said.

A suffering at the threshold

of strength is all you can hope

for, he said.

  Erehwon, Erehwon


I cannot clue you in on

the mystery that fits. In

my critiques of new libraries

and new museums it’s quite

clear that I’m leaning on a mirror

and looking in the mirror, always.

I’m attracted to feeling as if

there’s another person present.

But mostly: astridsplein, rain

in visible rivulets down the golden elm’s

bark, dimpling foxglove and lavender

next to steaming, black rubbish heaps––

walking round the house in long

lace dresses and a Keith Haring sweater

the elevation slipping in my head.

The wood of the house in

the stench of the train station,

the site of the cutty-grass flickering

on cliff-top next to the disappearing

face of a stranger on the express

train, the blooming narrative

of Thomas Browne ‘gainst all

the regained shells and the carefully

beaded purse containing them-

that broken symmetry

between Scylla and Charybdis,

the forgotten dirt roads into everglades

and the rising hue of jugular:

Listen, I’m existing, I exist

this is just to say

I have written this

I’m writing this

to say it was

the easiest thing I said

I have ever done.