The skeleton of an avocet erupts
in a cigar box. A fire

like cognac. Like the avocet.
I have trouble choosing: worm

or sleep. Luckily,
I am not long-legged.

This morning, I told my wife
my belt was an eel, coming to surface

for the sheen of the snaps, for what might
be hidden in the shores

of the back pocket. She told me
a joke in Portuguese, about the avocet

who ate the eel and turned into
a flying fish. It’s funnier

in Portuguese. In this language,
we build our coffins like homes—

the purple drapes here, the dinette set…
The avocet is a female apricot,

she says, the burial is a long
slow look at a solemn channel—

before the shovels, streaked with the leavings
of omuboro cherry, allow

for rain. I told my wife,
if I worked at the graveyard,

I would also try to knock the fruit
from the tree. She tells me

the joke about yellow feet
and other signs. How,

to bury the bird
is to choose between two unknowables.

Flight, death. We only think
that she’s the one we’ve been spooning with.

In the creased lid
of the cigar box is only

the aching of paper, and a punchline:
How the armless man

lives with itch. This
is who we have to live with.

TAGS: , ,

Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer (W.W. Norton: Liveright), Pot Farm, and Barolo (both from the University of Nebraska Press), the poetry books, Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots, and Sagittarius Agitprop (both from Black Lawrence Press), and the chapbooks, Four Hours to Mpumalanga and Aardvark. Recent and forthcoming work appears in The New Republic, Field, Epoch, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. After spending over 17 years of his occupational life in restaurant kitchens—from fast-food chicken shacks to fine-dining temples of gastronomy—he now teaches creative writing in the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction Editor of the literary journal, Passages North. This winter, he prepared his first batch of whitefish liver ice cream. It paired well with onion bagels.

7 responses to “In Burying the Avocet”

  1. Josh Wagner says:

    Tremendous piece! Moving and sharp.

    Favorite part:

    “to bury the bird
    is to choose between two unknowables.

    Flight, death.”

  2. Irene Zion says:

    These lines especially spoke to me, Matthew Gavin:

    “to bury the bird
    is to choose between two unknowables.

    Flight, death.”

  3. Irene Zion says:

    Um, Matthew Gavin,
    I suppose I should have read the comments before I made mine.
    (Duh.)

  4. Thanks, Irene! I’m glad both you and Josh liked the line. And you both use the colon (:) to wonderful effect!

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    Senor MGF! And now poetry as well?

  6. SS,

    Si. Actually, I’ve been doing the poetry longer than the prose.

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