Sam Witt

The Mourning Dove

Saint Petersburg, Russia, March 2002


Once the mask
had grown through the tissue
of this face at last,
& the Prisoners,
they’d wakened inside me,
I could see that they’d replaced
my disfigured music
with the way everything
was quivering
to the dark matter of its trill:
the razorblade, for instance,
in my right hand;
the left index tipping an earlobe,
then reaching down
to set the white blossom
of a bird cherry cutting
into trembling, right there,
where my hostmother had floated it,
in a glass bowl of water on the sill.
Pages of sunlight was the host,
cast shimmering through its petals
against the wall, through which,
released into the spherical mourning
of its escaped womb,
I could hear the Prisoners,
floating there against the wall,
six weeks after I’d awakened
in the I.C.U.,
back in San Francisco,
handcuffed to a gurney
& that pigeon, singing
into bronze spinning discs
of decapitated light,
one of many ikonoglandular moments
when the song actually paused,
swallowed in on itself, reversed
into a vanishing point
through which, meanwhile,
it was gorling me backwards
by that ruined stone balcony,
if I could sing myself back
through that black missing flesh
& be here
in its besieged Bethlehem
implanted in each second
but I was alone
in the sacred trembling
& my body trailed
in its chromosome
of silence—

Tiny ikons, locked in the eastern corner,
behind glass; me,
locked away in my frame.
Especially the tiny severed head
of John, garnished in delicate,
silver razorwire, on a platter,
& the soldiers in yet another,
sleeping around the millstone,
one of them clutching
what could have been a bird’s nest
in his sleep—think of the nestlings
that crown of thorns
might have hatched, & the song,
from those unseen, bloodspeckled eggs
the one who cast for the robe
(& wore it on his shoulders as he slept)
might have dreamed of,
upon waking, were his lot
to carry, perfectly balanced,
an egg in each palm,
to the end days, & redemption. 
Alas: I woke empty handed: into my body,
I violently sat up: all the irreplaceable
& inhuman faces these ikons carry
were lost,
lost in these cages of sunlight,
& mine among them, a stranger here
—inconsolable, yes—
with scars on the insides of my arms,
scars that streamed with light,
just desolate me,
turning in real-time
to see the loose
strands of red hair,
tangled in that nest,
that actual bird’s nest
my host kept in there,
locked away with the ikons: me,
locked away in myself,
turning to see those red strands
dissolve into that same old light
that streamed into this room,
streaming to this day as it always has,
for Christ’s soldiers,
not the puncture wound,
are the ones who haunt me now
put to sleep in this painting,
as I was
in that other room
lost halos
overlapping now, in this,
this bright machinery
of missing flesh
projected outward
from that tiny frame, its watermarks
traced along the floor to my feet,
cradle noise of the ocean
in the deep freezer behind,
as one by one the soldiers
stood above me,
Prisoners of Christ’s sleep,
having been awakened
by the dove’s cry, in the tiny frame
of this room, without a body,
each with a scalpel hung at their belt
& I sank to my knees, right there,
in that living room where, alone,
softly, Lord, complete in the wound
of myself, a dove
was mouthing me
through that spear-wound
in the air, between
the inverted tree of its song,
the puncture wounds in my arms,
& me, aspired into shadowplay,
projected kneeling against the wall; me:
the shadow of that song
saturating the room: me,
built around that wound,
for their erased song
had come to replace
the dimensions
of that prison cell
with a sudden powerful wave
breathed into this room
with a swelling
of the undercurtain
until it parted
to reveal a faint,
chalked-in moon,
risen over rows of Soviet housing,
that same disc
I’d awakened to,
only glowing, hours earlier, fading me in
to the deranged, silver bird chatter
at dawn, to scorched runes:
the charred, skeletal chassis
of a fire-gutted car I’d seen
burning, from that wasted balcony,
several nights before
in the courtyard below:
Black flesh
of an animal in flight now,
fliscing its shadow
across this bright white interior,
across the field of my vision:
Corridor of air,
Invisible birthcanal,
waterless birthwaters
moving me as wind,
& spilled out of the corner of my ear
into the sound of that song,
suddenly, I was trembling
on & off with the dove’s call because,
as always, my fear 
was a measure of something:
bright analog
of how empty
it had emptied me forward
like a sucking chest wound,
moment to moment
into that palpitation-room;
a cry, implanted
in each butchered second,
the narcan gasp one takes
with one’s entire body, Wake up,
the nurse says, & I watched myself
sitting up violently
like a reanimated corpse
in one of those tiny gilded frames,
& there you were, soldiers
or was it the police,
or an orderly
who’d handcuffed me to the gurney,
Brothers, You’d entered
even the apparatus
of my breathing
with a momentary refraction
of 6 spears, You without bodies,
who stood there above me,
as I violently jolted upwards
into my body,
& You shook the spears overhead,
& streaming in the painful,
sharp light,
through the long entrance
of that dove’s cry
into this delivery room, worlds away,
I became the song,
its everywhere, its geographical,
though I didn’t exist, Wake up, Child,
(I read it on their disappeared lips),

Now butcher yourself anew.
that sharp sudden breath,
cutting the umbilical cord
that hollow
titanium blade, hollow
as the skeleton of a dove,
I could feel my fingertips
cutting into the razorblade,
& my heart
was licked out from the side,
& You lifted it, Soldier, Guard,
as the nurse slapped me,
You lifted my slapped,
newborn heart as the dove sang,
into the sped-up frequency
of this anti-pregnance,
this room, this
silent third of my breathing,
& live, this now,
having come to plant its own
in each second with another place
to leave One behind.

© 2008 Electronic Poetry Review