Every five years my failure as a man gets weirder.
Once, in the woods and lost, I tried to track a trail of vapor home.
That was the seventh time I legitimately thought that I might die.
Another time, in Paris, was over a bar tab in a discothèque called Le Pélican.
After that I went home and read John Donne poorly.
He wrote from convolution into convolution.
He tried to say which is preferable, to be good or destroyed.
He preferred to be destroyed.
He did not write of pelicans.
Yet I read him poorly.
So in reading him I thought of pelicans.
How they hunt by an immense falling from the air.
How long they carry the dead around inside their mouths.
How they have no notion of their strangeness.
How they would be enviable if not for this:
They are fervent but without song.
That night I dreamed of a pelican named John Donne.
This is typical of my weirdness.
It fell upon our marriage bed.
I volunteered to be the one consumed.
I sat up inside the creature’s beak beside the many dead it hauled.
I tried to speak but its gullet swallowed every sound.
The dead there had devised a kind of pantomime.
I learned it soon enough.
Its every word meant grieve.
Grieving, alive but dead, I thought of my sweet wife.
With her in mind, I found the deadest dreadful body there.
I tore a length of its dried flesh free.
Upon that flesh I wrote these words.
With some finger bones I bored a hole through the pelican’s low beak.
When we passed above our home again, I spat the message through.
It darted, ardent as an insect, into my wife’s sleeping ear.
She woke then, not knowing what I’d done.
My song thrived inside her; humming always, though I was gone.
Copyright © 2020 Charlie Clark
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.