Literature 9-22-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: James C. Henderson

Read "Indigo Bunting" by James Henderson, a veteran What Light-winning poet, whose work for this round was selected by Carol Muske-Dukes.


Indigo Bunting

Iridescent blue, the finch lies on the sidewalk
after hitting the glass-sided building.
I’ve seen a specimen like it in a drawer
at the museum of natural history
a white tag tied around its leg
wings folded, side-by-side with other birds
in drawers upon drawers of dry bodies
in a catalogue of our squandered world.

Feathers soft, still warm, his neck is loose
under my thumb. Poor little fellow
all the way from the tropics
days across the Gulf and deserts
only to end so early in the season a stone
in the river of morning pedestrian traffic.

White clouds slip across the blue
face of the glass above us.
It certainly looks like the sky, Pal.
So much of our lives we live in our minds.
You aren’t even really blue, tiny shard of the sky
resting in the palm of my hand.
You’re actually black.
You have no pigment in your feathers.
The blue I see is a reflection, a trick of light.
I can’t help think of all the gazing
the dreaming I’ve done in the sky
crashing there. Don’t regret it.
How can anyone regret the sky?

So, is this real? This sadness, this loss, I feel?
You are more a piece of night
than a shard torn from the sky.
And who should miss a piece of the night?
There is so much of it.


I write poetry to convey my physical, emotional, and intellectual experiences as accurately and as honestly as I can so that the reader may feel them with the same immediacy and power as I originally did. I try to do this simply and with humility, avoiding sentimentality. I don’t always succeed; however, when I am successful, an intimacy is created between the reader and me. Intimacy is the goal.


James C. Henderson is a recent graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program. He lives in New Brighton with his lovely wife, Athena, and is at work developing his MFA poetry thesis, A Man of the World, into a manuscript worthy of publication.