Unclean

written by Brooks Haxton

Unclean

— Brooks Haxton

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am
like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am
as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.
Psalm 102

The pelican in scripture is unclean. It pukes dead fish
onto the hatchlings, and it roosts alone, like Satan
on the Tree of Life. Nobody told me. I liked pelicans.
I liked owls, too. I used to lie awake and listen,
wanting to become an owl, to fly, to see through darkness,
turn my head, and look straight back behind me. I was
happy, as kids go, but I did not belong in human form.
Sparrows peck grain from fresh dung. In this world rich
means filthy. Leopardi, in his high Romantic musings
on the sparrow, does not say the poet is a shitbird, just
that, singing by himself, he acts like one, and wishes
he could feel more like one, unashamed to do so. Here,
the preacher (burning in his bones with fever, puking
half-digested fish, and hooting, sleepless in the ruins
like the baleful dead) cries: O Lord, take me not away.

About the poet


Brooks Haxton

Brooks Haxton, born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1950, is the son of the novelist Ellen Douglas and the composer Kenneth Haxton. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, Haxton teaches in the writing programs at Syracuse University and Warren Wilson College. He lives in Syracuse with his wife and three children.Brooks Haxton's Works:Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero, The Lay of Eleanor and Irene (Backcountry, 1985) Dominion (Knopf, 1986) Traveling Company (Knopf, 1989) Dead Reckoning (Story Line Press, 1989) The Sun at Night (Knopf, 1997)

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