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Dinwiddie    pg. 1996    Diphtheria

To build a life-like diorama, kill the bird first.
I grab the bent neck of a swan,
arrange artificial foliage, a hand-woven nest.
Paint and light complete the illusion
of frozen mid-flight along The New River,

purportedly the oldest river under thunderbolts.
Look through a small opening from a great distance
to safely view a total eclipse of the past,
a contagious disease in fission on a glass slide,
or what’s framed in a transparent casket.

On display in a department store window,
five identical girls, ten identical shoes beneath
matching sets of petticoats. Their lives began
in incubators, continued on cobbled streets.
The hour before midnight a man passes,

raises a lantern to their startled faces, says,
I’m searching for someone honest, actual.
He’s partially serious; the sun cannot be contained
or concealed in a box, cannot become the darkness
of an uncharitable sky or your hand

over my eyes. If an orange is an orange
in a magician’s palm and premises are true or false:
—All birds speak French
—Swans are birds, therefore, says the youth,
—Swans speak French and will kill

or should be killed. If you were asked to deliver a letter
that would hasten the start of a war, would you
take a short cut or linger in the woods,
purposely become lost? Your fever not high exactly,
but your pulse rapid as you count and pray upon

a chain of poisonous berries plucked from vines
at the river’s shore. How many swans have to die
to prove there’s no song at the moment of death?
How come I can’t stop making false forms,
can’t tell the difference between a bird and a god?