Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Deathbed Dream with Extinction List

Lately, my dreams have been more dead
than usual. They have always been a little dead,
but only around the edges. Or the deadness
has been an unobtrusive dimple on the dreamscape:
a little sweet, a little fermented, a little vegetal.
Appalachian Yellow Asphodel, the dream says,
and its sunny stars shine, exuberant and dead
and loudly so. The bluebuck lowers its blue face
into them. The cryptic treehunter carries
a dwarf mantis orangely into a tree. Because
the dream is so dead, there is no difference
between the land and the sea. The eelgrass limpet
could easily be mistaken for a mountain pebble,
the forkshell for a shelf fungus. Everything stands
around my bed and touches me on the arm
or strokes my hair. I am not scared, but
they should be more careful. I am a wet leaf,
slick and ready to tear. Because the dream
is so dead, there is no difference between moss
and my breath. The golden toad clambers across
the cloud forest of my face. I do not need it
to wait for me, but it will. I have followed
the speckled trail of Himalayan quail feathers
and now I am on a beach that is also a mountain
that is also, somehow, the scrubby backyard
of my childhood home. Islands of berries and snow.
The Indefatigable Galápagos mouse is here,
which seems unlikely as anything. I hadn’t thought
to see the Japanese sea lion again, or for the first time.
I’ve heard that most people die within one day
of having a dream like this, in which I am packing
my suitcase full of Kaua’i ‘ō ‘ō mating calls.
In the forested canyons of being dead, they can
finally be answered. There are sweet pairs
everywhere, and their sweetness clangs like
a carillon. Most people die within a day of waking
from this dream, but if life on Earth were a day,
we have only been awake for one minute
and fifteen seconds of it. Long enough to erase
the large sloth lemur and the Mariana mallard
and eighty-three percent of everything else.
On balance, it’s unnatural to be living. A statistical
impossibility. Extinct means extinguish means quench,
but what mouth is so thirsty for our deadness?
What could hold the Navassa curly-tailed lizard
as it curls its tail in alarm? What could hold
ten million species? Still, I’m feeling OK.
There’s an Old English bulldog here, and a pair
of phantom shiners gleam like the Northern Lights
in their aquarium. It is already flamboyantly night.
The space between the stars is startlesome
as the eyes of the Queen of Sheba’s gazelle.
We are all prey species here, which means no
quarreling among us. Everything is full of quivering
dark eyes. I recognize the Rodrigues night heron
by its unwary amble. I too had thought myself
unassailable, buoyant with time. O night soft
as sea mink, everything’s going to be fine.
O Tasmanian tiger, not even one hundred years
gone. What kind of sponge is this dream,
that it can soak up so much time? What happens
when it’s squeezed? My knees have become
upland for the upland moa. My hips are mottled
by the Vegas Valley leopard frog. I don’t know
how an entire forest sprouted inside my lungs,
but I have been cooperative, and the leaves
of the woolly-stalked begonia have been so gentle.
I am late for something. My cells rumble beneath
the plod of the Xenoceratops, which honestly
seems too big to have vanished. My heart is itchy.
I would like to place it into a cooler body.
I would like to place it in a den of Yunnan lake newts
and let their red spines outshine my blood,
though everything is already shining from the edges
in and closing the doors behind it. There has been
some confusion. I meant for the dream to end,
but not while I was inside it. I have mistaken
the dream’s deadness for my own skin, my breathing
for the shaky song of the Zulu ambush katydid.  

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