The Pigeon King

*For A.F.

You are not the story you are seeking—

not on this calm October morning,

not in this quiet downtown library

where you walk, soft-footed, on the carpet

towards the effulgent fiction section.

Look at me. I am shaking. And you

are a chimera wrapped in smoke and denim.


You raise your hands in rumination

of the volumes stretched the length between us.

I put down my pen in apprehension,

but you don’t know I’m here, nor do you care.

It is a story your fingers solicit—

the alchemy of true transformation.

Does such a book exist? For any of us?


You were not the story that I wanted—

I craved an anointed queen; I got the pigeon king,

squinting at books and shuffling three languages.

Is it hope that draws us to these holy places

where books and man are the only miracle?

Or is it another cloudland gimmick from a king

in need of a book, by a woman in want of a story?


*This poem is a poetic response to A.F.’s exquisite poem about writing a novel: “What I Asked For.”

This poem was originally posted on October 17, 2012. I’ve since revised it for the tenth time, and I’m considering doing an audiobook version of “The Pigeon King” over the weekend.

Meanwhile, A Poetry Reading

Courtenay Bluebird with Goopy Henna in her Hair on Bluebird Blvd.

Consider this photograph of me a placeholder for later this evening.

My plan is to post an audio clip of me reading poetry (hopefully!) for your pleasure*.

About the photograph: The Husband took this picture this afternoon. I am wearing a full crown of goopy henna.

Why all the fuss with my hair?

I’m reading at a poetry event tonight.

In fact, I am I am getting ready to leave right now.

Thinking of you! —Courtenay Bluebird





No one watches correctly— the conjurer makes sure

all paying eyes stray to the glint of his large amber ring

before he speaks again:

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

She appears, but she’s not where she’s supposed to be.

The retiree at table seven is astonished to find the Queen bobbing in his gin.

The conjurer loans his grin to the surprised man while the crowd applauds.

Night after night, at home in his pajamas, the conjurer works the flourish,

the drop, the fangy smile in front of the standing mirror in the hall.

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

Not at home with the conjurer, that’s for sure.

He begins again. The flourish, the drop, the fangy smile

while the unseen world turns and snores in its bed.

(Or that’s how he pictures it.)

No one knows his patter— the story that goes with the cards

and the props and the brassy little band that drops its brassy little cues.

There are

the missing girls and the broken plates; the lost cards and the vanished flowers;

the doves that rise as smooth as white scarves,

from his well-scrubbed palms as he feigns surprise.

And under each story, another story:

the vastness of darkness and the terror of loss.

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

And the band misses its cue. Again.

In the conjurer’s version of his favorite trick,

the missing girl is a jaguar crouched in a tree, and the broken plates,

three men out to woo her down from her perch

with cards and flowers and white shuddering doves,

which she eats, whole.

(Spoiler: She consumes the men, too.)

And where’s the Queen of Spades now?

She appears in the salad bar, crammed into the olives.

A woman yips, a man jumps.

No one goes back for seconds.

One night, there is a woman—

a smiling woman, alone at a table,

a beautiful woman, attentive and supple,

who laughs at his jokes and oohs at his tricks.

The conjurer begins his jaguar tale, caressing his cards.

(Under each story, another story snarls.)

It’s a beautiful day and three man go a-wooing

this woman with great big golden eyes.

(Here’s a surprise, she’s bewitched.)

At this point, the woman

turns her full amber stare on the face of the conjurer—

her eyes see all: the pass he fumbles,

the surprise he conceals, the volta, the drop,

the hidden drawer, and the fine secret pocket

that contains the map every man hides

of himself to himself.

He glares at the woman, who returns a toothy smile—

Do you see the Queen of Spades?

No. And now she’s gone.

But he must continue. So the conjurer tries

to enrich those familiar stories—

a woman transformed, a recovered map, a dove

to watch over you when you cannot sleep.

That what is smashed can be mended.

That what is unloved can be endured.

That there’s forgiveness from the unseen world.

But no one hears correctly— in this version

the jaguar goes at a nightclub

in the guise of a woman, a beautiful woman,

a smiling woman, starved for a meal. And guess

which magical dish

delights her amber eye?

Do you see the Queen of Spades?

No? Watch closely—


Frank O’Hara, I Hear You

Subway Construction in DC

blooming in my head this morning while the jackhammers

kick the asphalt six feet below the windows next to my bed.

Construction is not symphonic when it keeps the rhythm

of an old headache blistering under your left ear, like this—

Why is noise so indiscriminate in its audience? Your poems look

like noise, but they sing quieter than I do, though. In the end, each line

is you, whispering the names you love in a plainsong litany.

I think of you, writing, and I see a slip of notepaper unfolded

in your clean hand; you, grit-smiling in a bleached undershirt;

you, keening at your typewriter the day Lady Day died.

Your poems haunt me, Frank O’Hara. They do!

Your sweet experiments in tabloid tenderness; the way you pause

between stanzas to lean back and talk to your friends,

all those poets, all those painters— we know who they are now.

But that’s you, isn’t it? You knew how to croon over a name’s

own story, while I sit here, wearing old bed sheets at my desk,

fingers slapping the keyboard, kvetching about jackhammers,

carping at the road dust that will coat my words when this poem

is over.


This poem is a response to Frank O’Hara’s Personal Poem.


The Hobby Shop


Today is like a rare curiosity behind a glass case

in the old dusty hobby shop that never looks open.

Still, you try the door this one time after you

get off the bus. The knob creaks, but it turns.

Today is like the man behind the dust-etched counter

of that old hobby shop. When you clatter inside,

his whole face lifts and blooms to see you,

a small stranger in a patched jacket.

Today is like a glittery shelf of all your wants,

and you’ve got ten dollars twitching in your pocket.

You’ve been saving up; you’ve been daydreaming.

But today, you’re awake and—

Today contains a simple event you don’t expect

to recall years later— a man with a combed mustache;

a box with ovoid lettering; your tiny voice, clear,

sure of its need: That one. That one, please.


Anatomy Lesson

Ruth  Kaufman 1942

Consider the animal nature
of your breath.
Consider the humid air that will not rouse
beneath the porch fan, and—
consider the paper flowers pinned to the eaves
bleeding cinematic dyes on the wall
in this heat. Oh, this heat.
Consider the blonde in the open car, careening
down the blacktop that leads to your house.
Consider the light, in swags, on the low grey
clouds that crowd the hills.
Consider the woman’s determined face,
haloed by the mad roar of her six-piston engine.
Consider the bright and uncertain nature
of most Saturday mornings.
Consider your hands. Consider the door.
Then consider—quickly, please—
bolting the lock, just this once.


Fine Calluses

Entering the Forest

The forest bends on one knee to take us into her arms.

Are you coming? The snow and wind write cursive

words in the frozen air. I wear 
a capelet of ice.
You wound your woolen sadness ’round
 your head.
I’m going back to bed, you tell me.


I stop to watch you turn back. This is

the last time we’ll dance together, and I know it.


I cannot wait any longer.
Neither can you. 


The wind stops
 its animal howl when I cross the threshold
of piñons; the lake drinks the fringe of evergreens,
and toys with a darkening sky. I am 
the why of these things; there is no why:

Human nature is only nature, after all.


The trees complain of the ice. The forest knows


I keep my humming to myself. I walk deeper
towards her heart.


In a different year, I would have felt your absence.
But that year went. This year built fine calluses

on my naked hands. In the spring, the thaw comes,


and I will rise from a green sleep, garlanded with

a crown of seeds.


No one mourns in the forest; no one can mourn here—

life begins in a place like this, and ends in a place

just like this. And there are songs we sing for each
wilding moment.


Some day the forest will sing those songs for us.
But tonight, the lake fills with evening stars,
and the wind carries birdsong and the rustle of pine trees
and there is silence that is never silent
for long.


A Secret Spring

Walking Barefoot Across the Sky

And some days it comes a little bit easier than others,
bubbling up from the loam, a secret spring
in a dry and lithesome land. And some days, but not
others, I am walking through the drying linens tucked
away from the street in Mrs. Kormos’ backyard,
where I left you going back and forth on a swing
twenty years ago, singing to yourself like some girls do.
And some days the alarm rings and no one wakes—
but the dreams produce sublime green tendrils.
So, it’s forgivable.

And some days, we rise up in a barking dog rush
mumbling up from sleep, alert, but late.
And some days, in fact, most of them.
I look up and realize I never finished
pushing you on the swing that day. I left; you kicked off
with your feet, climbing up that bright blue winter sky.

And there are days
when I can hear the snapping of ghost laundry on a taut line.
And other days still yet, I cannot hear anything but the marshy
hum of my own words bubbling up onto the page,
crude and wild while the phone is ringing
and I miss every little important thing
save for the words in front of me. And every day,
I remember a little bit more of how to tell this story
because it’s happening, it’s happening as I tell it, to you,
while you push back and forth on that crummy swing set,
climbing that brusque winter sky, singing loudly as you go.


5-Minute Dance Party [Bluebird— Stunning Short Film]



There’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him.


I am simultaneously posting a different version of this Charles Bukowski poem on the new Bluebird Blvd. Tumblr— where you will find fragments of stories like gestures from a slow hand and slow-thrill photographs I’ve been setting aside in that overstuffed cabinet that is my heart.

Also, if you do get a chance, please check out the link to the filmmakers who created this beautiful piece below. The group California Is A Place does the most magnificent work. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.

Bluebird from California is a place. on Vimeo.




I keep my heart tucked down a winding side street
of a city where it is dusk or night all the time.
Walk in any direction of this place and you might hear
tarnished bells rung by the stealth of silent men,
typists clacking love letters for a dollar a page,
and children thumping a leather ball in an alley
while they shout curse words too coarse
for adult ears.

I keep my heart behind a door, flaked with paint:
The bus will drop you near the market, no farther.
The women will turn the conversation to clocks.
The men will lead you round in fine ellipses.
The children will laugh at your strange accent.
The robed priests will dodge your questions
with eye rolls, soft murmurs in Cantonese,
or broken Basque.

I keep my heart in a city that I made from scratch.
The signs that should lead you to this place are broken.
The old roads twist the wrong way on purpose.
But should you listen to me speak, really listen,
you’ll hear this city thrum beneath my voice
clear as a route, bright as a bell, close as my heart—
metronomic and self-sustained, lit like a bare light
in a room both familiar and strange.


Boadicea in Darkness



In the night, there is thunder.  I wake in a drowsy sweat.

And there you are, Boadicea, draped in a wet wool wrap,

dyed an ochre ombre from the smoke and heat of war.

Your sandals slap the floor.  You brood towards my open window.

(Lightning grows open the room,  and groans us into darkness.)

The air thickens from the storm;  you stand wordless by my head—

our breath raised in tandem while I row on the sea of sleep.

In these depths, your hand touches my cheek once, and briefly.

I am not a war-torn island;  I am a woman in search of answers.

(Lightning illuminates our arms, turns our faces to darkness.)

Through this damp hour of night, I bathe in fresh fever:  A queen.

A warrior.  Knows a thing about a body.  A body is a country

ghost-governed by a dream.  A body is one idea lashed

to crenellated borders.  A body is a story that runs up against the sea.

(Lightning rises like tides and drops us into depths.)

The rain leaps through my open window;  I swim myself to sleep.

When I wake, you’re gone.  You trailed the night behind you

with your slapping sandals.  Still, your scent loiters: 

wet wool, new blood, a sweat-broken fever, the body, set free.
*A few words about Boadicea available through this link.