Pick-a-Poem: Cygnus Cygnus


Hello, readers, and welcome to another poetry post. Our poem on this lovely August day is Cygnus Cygnus by Kiki Petrosino. Once again, this week’s post comes to us courtesy of Poetry Daily, which is a great resource for poems in your daily life. If you’re looking for a bit of verse for your morning, afternoon, or evening, check out the site!

According to her page on Poetry Daily, Kiki Petrosino “was born in Baltimore and received her BA from the University of Virginia. She spent two years teaching English and Italian at a private school, after which she earned graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her debut collection, Fort Red Border (Sarabande, 2009) was praised by The Believer and shortlisted for the 2009 Foreword Book of the Year in Poetry. Petrosino is the co-editor of Transom, an independent on-line poetry journal, and she teaches creative writing at the University of Louisville.”

Cygnus Cygnus, by Kiki Petrosino

        For Dean Young

To love a theory leaves no room for imprecision. Let us count:
Here is a king. Here is a catfish. Here is a staff of office.
Here’s a sad-beaked animal nibbling at my poor snack cake of grief.

Hello, sad animal. Turns out, you’re not making the swim back.
Pythagoras argued that the souls of poets pass not from this world
but lodge themselves in the breastwork of swans.

Let it be, then. Let some of us withdraw to the keel-shaped bones
to the tilted orrery of the thorax. But I think: if poets coalesce as swans
we’re mostly in the feet of swans, black as drums

pressing our rageful webbing into the earth’s flank.
The sound of a swan is no chemical thing, but a bloody hum
thick with rivalry & blue weather. It’s rage that moves

the tongue of a swan in strange meters, it is only rage
that pulls the tarsometatarsus back to the joint, like
a bowstring stretched to the edge

of its hungry self. Just so, you taught me to be warlike
in my songs & still to praise the palm-sized stars
brooding over their great darkness.

I see how art is. It’s a fine blast furnace, & my knuckles
make an imperfect pomegranate-delivery system. It’s tempting
to lie to the young. But you told us rightly about the beautiful

dead flamingoes holding up the continent, & the thousands
of microscopic bluebirds who once pinned the canopy of Iowa
in place. Last time I passed your house, something with a beak

& wings had pecked a line of punctuation in the stucco
then dressed each small exit with a different, loosening fist
of dry grass. I wanted to tell you: The neighborhood is full

of unusual craft today, professor. But instead, I let the moon
swing like a lantern over the old, sugary architecture
of your road. To be a poet is to surface plainly

from the wound of sleep. To observe how thickly feathered
the heart, how small & bright the planet of human thought.
When you tell the sky goodbye in your poems

it’s awful. Every time. This last lesson moves beyond
my study. But you remain with me as a winter sky
shot through with swans of iron, swans of steel.

Let no harm come to the dark you have made.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s poem! For more of these, check the blog archives.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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