Bio Note: In 1976, I moved with my family to Fairbanks, Alaska to teach for a year in the creative writing program at the University of Alaska. I’m still there. I’ve published seven books of poetry, as well as a collection of essays.
To Our Customers…
Morgan's Variety Store began with a mail-order business in glare refined from the oily tears mother whales cried when their calves were taken away by the spastic engineers. Now we sell the whiskers of walruses, the breath of worms, our windows display set in gold the snowflakes that have fallen each summer since grandfather died who sold his estate in the east to start a cigar factory (now there was a man who took risks). In these green bottles you'll find a medicinal essence derived from the fossilized ova of bees, and this locked case to which there is only one key which I wear beneath my shirt holds a sphere that no one can see except under polarized light on the median days of the year: the crystalline liquid inside can influence your genes. It must be used with dread. Or never used at all but only contemplated like all things in this store which grandfather founded on smoke from cigars which he packaged and sold—the store he left to me to dream as I fall toward the stars.
Pictures of the Dead
The dead have no location, no language. They do not gossip. When you join the dead they will not welcome you into their club. The dead ear does not hear the dirge. It is not deaf. The population of the dead is zero. A massacre in Corsica will not add to their numbers. A dead babe does not age in the grave. It does not stay young either. If you are feeling sorry for yourself, you are still alive. The pictures we have of the dead are not accurate. The flowers are appreciated. ARCHIVES OF THE AIR This guy who knows more about cranes than they know about themselves (because their brains are thumbnail small) explains that the sandhill’s call—a loud rattle and a squeak—comes not from one crane’s beak but two, the male’s note answered by his mate’s. Also, he states, when one of them croaks, the survivor often hangs around for months and mopes, and here he relates the story of a grieving female in the DMZ between the two Koreas, rescued at great risk by South Korean troops and shipped to him in Maryland, though the law forbids it, yet she arrived safely and briefly joined his local set. He’s the one who, using ultra-lightweight planes with crane insignias, teaches home-bred whooping cranes to migrate. Whoopers are less endangered thanks to him. He raised one female from the egg and, wearing a crane costume and pointing his beak to the sky while flapping his fake crane wings and jumping up and down, coached her in the mating dance, but when someone jokes, “Sounds like a fine romance,” our self-styled crane-iac shakes his head. “Totally boring,” since he had to be outfitted and at her beck and call whenever she wanted to ball. Nestlings keep their distinctive peep for a year, though fully grown by then, so the family unit holds through one full cycle of migration. They ride the mile-high winds with a sixth magnetic sense that returns them to the acre where they began, a skill that puzzles even our crane man. As we circle the field, watching through our scopes the long-legged, red-capped semi-prehistoric crew, scuffles and skirmishes erupt and feathers ruffle, some lower their shoulders and crane their necks suggesting flight. Some glide in low and land while others take off. “If the chill is strong,” he says, “perhaps tonight.”
©2022 John Morgan
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