This week we are delighted to feature “the day without before this without” by Joshua Kryah. The poem is previously unpublished. Kryah’s first collection of poems, GLEAN (2007), won the Nightboat Books Poetry Prize. His second, WE ARE STARVED, will be published by the Center for Literary Publishing / Colorado State University Press in June. He is the poetry editor of WITNESS.
This poem comes from my upcoming collection, WE ARE STARVED, which will be published this June. It’s a reimagining of Mao’s “kill a sparrow campaign” as if it took place during my white, suburban, American upbringing.
the day without before this without
“Forget it,” said Mao when declaring the end
of the campaign against sparrows.
Many thousands already dead and the locusts a multitude now among
the fields, the famine they led to, the noise
of the night which was weeping or starving or more locusts.
And we no longer seek after the birds.
There are no more birds.
What this means.
A loss or a lostness.
Coming upon it during our morning walk. Such harrowing
and hurt, such a small asking, what is it for?
The sparrow lying in the yard for over a week now, breaking, broken.
When she finds the bird’s wing near the bush
and the rest of the bird with it, I tell her it is the history
of the bird, of its passing.
The pleasure of the whole thing, the half thing.
Is this how best to explain it?
How we pinched their necks as our parents looked on, banged
pots and pans, drove them from yards, tore down
their nests, broke their eggs, devoured their young.
We were starved.
We went around making everything around us more starved.
It is not you I will miss, we sang, it is you I will miss.
Breaking because we could. My brother making sure they were dead
by stepping on their beaks
until they splintered.
And my daughter’s question is another way to explain it.
Sky that empties, sky that empties.
It is our inheritance.
Men standing at the airport fence shooting songbirds
for target practice. The lime sticks my grandfather set among the garden
to catch the hummingbirds he so loved to eat. Saint Francis’
question to either the children or the swallows
they had stuffed in bags slung over their shoulders
as they made their way home,
Why did you let yourself be caught?