Fairy Tales and other poems by Jonathan Duckworth

Mediation. Shallow rill of air between our throats
& the arrow that finds an artery.
Our dreams boiled down, reduced to waxen dreck.

Less ask, more tell, say we; do not insist so much
on the barren, lithic fact of is;
words, words, words, each a mote of possibility,

so many clamoring in the mouth, afeared fledglings
casting cry into the staid dark
of the ouroboros’s tract. Which is to say, unfact;

turf-stained knees scuttling, prostrate, penitent, up
the slope of Fiddler’s Green,
modest contrition to the last ever Faerie Queen, left

to asphyxiate in the vacuum of a microscope’s slide.
All this to say, You there, Reality,
we see light unspooling from cracks in your mask.


One summer afternoon my father’s
Harris hawk chases down a pigeon,
rips it from the air, throws it down
into the brown grass blanketing the soil.
Quick kill, fast plucking beak, slick talons.
The hawk’s mouth reddens with joyless
pleasure—the reptilian brain’s revelry.
The feathers of the breast must go,
intervening skin must be flensed away,
the pigeon’s heart must be devoured first,
for life must be eaten raw. My own skin
is no thicker than the pigeon’s. My own
heart no more difficult to find & remove.
Another predator with softer talons,
an animal with eyes that blink, a throat
loaded with words & not just growl,
could anytime make me their pigeon.
Lesson learned. Summer sun’s sawblade
edge cuts the moment into neat,
easily memorized patterns & angles.

The First Word

how you had to invent the ur-tongue
that unfurled you,
the ur-throat that bore & birthed you

how you made it fact: the universe
is traced
from a teardrop drained of all liquid

how you chased your lover, silence,
to the edge of an
outer void where you couldn’t exist

how you came to hate & envy your
younger siblings
in their baroque polysyllabic finery

how you were forgotten, discarded,
just another
fossil entombed with amber & nacre

how you were embittered, became
primal peal of fear,
ragged, rough-hewn cloud of breath

how you are still with us as we make
love, the torrid
tides of our bodies bursting our skins

how you are with us when we glance
nightward, gaping at
stars swaddling us in threads of light

On the Only Planet where Li Bai is Buried

in buoyant moods like this
what can I do but
go for a walk
& invite
even the mosquitoes
to join me

on the only planet
where Li Bai is buried
what can I do but
sing in public

when night winds
fling my busted door open
what should I do but
leave it be &
welcome the milky way
into my living room
for a toast
of gas station wine


it must be hideous at first
a crawling sack of organs
& half-whittled bone

before it ornaments its naked wings
in scales of atomic glass
carves itself teeth from bullets

shapes a tongue from strips of rubber
scattered on the blasted highways

eyes of zinc & gold
from the melted clocks
that ran in rivers as
our time ran out

cavernous, billowing lungs
of Pacific Ocean plastic

will it learn to love the red sky
the gray sun

will it ever shape a word for summer

will it know the falling ash from snow

will it know those white shadows


on the broken teeth of our towers

on the blackened skin of our cities

will it know the stencil shape of a mother

drawing her child into her arms

that space that had always been safe

until the time when

no arms no embrace no amount

of love could keep anyone safe

could keep anything’s pieces together

will it learn you can’t hope your way

out of nuclear fission

will it learn from the theater

our wall shadows make

or will it breathe the fire

back into the furnaces

will it shape again the clocks

that hook their hands into time’s skin

will it build its executioner

idea by idea

piece by piece

part by part

atom by atom

bomb by bomb

not even our shadows

would survive a second try

I Am the A.M.

& now Tuesday, but not all of Monday yet
from pollen-yellow streetside stormdrains

same today as all days, dull coruscations
of lost
drunk morning stars wallowing in puddles

Lucifer as we all know was just an angel
to come to work early one time too many

bottled in traffic my half-swallowed curse
hammer enough to smash the dashboard

& on arrival I am sown as powdered glass
the pink rinds of everyone’s tender insteps

Jonathan Louis Duckworth received his MFA from Florida International University. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, PANK Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Cha, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.

1 Comment on Fairy Tales and other poems by Jonathan Duckworth

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