The Hum of Zug Island; The Sky, Now Black with Birds

Jamaal May

The Hum of Zug Island

In Windsor they blame it on machines
across the Detroit River. Residents can’t ignore
the low frequency hum taking the shape of a sea-
serpent on oscilloscopes. Beyond gray snow,
plastic bags, and crushed hypodermic needles,
I know Zug Island is humming—waiting

the way the organs in me are waiting.
My body is a building full of machines,
some more complex than others: needle-
nosed pliers, pistols, a satellite—all ignoring
my commands to sit still. But the snow
wants to kiss us, I hear my skin say. The sea,

pouring from gutters toward the sea
that must be out there waiting—
eardrums covet the rushing. Just snow
melting, I say to the thrumming machines,
but my voice is easy to ignore.
So I find myself drawn again to needles

of light through drawn blinds, needles
of wind through a window’s failing. A sea
of all the outside I try to ignore,
the hum that won’t calm and won’t wait.
This oscillating piston of a heart, the machine
that should know better, wants to see snow

tremble. It goes on about this rumor of snow
vibrating on that island where old factories needle
into the sky. You can hear it. A machine
that doesn’t know it’s dead sending a sea
of pulses across shore because it’s tired of waiting
for someone to talk to. Tired of being ignored.

I know you want to answer it, I say. Don’t ignore
what I told you about circuit boards and snow.
My jittery friends, I know waiting
is a hand closing slowly around needle
points, but we need the patience of a frozen sea.
Sometimes that quiets my machines,

the hum gets easier to ignore. But pine needles
still fall gold. Dead trees creak. A rain-gutter sea waits,
machine-gray, and my throat begs to drink the snow.

The Sky, Now Black with Birds

Riot helmets outnumbered the protesters
who, after Troy Davis was executed, stuck around
to throw useless punches into the courthouse grass,
while a woman near the forest of batons
lay sprawled facedown in the lawn gripping a Bible,
a green sea beginning to memorize
the shape of her grief. If I say Death,
cure death
, and have such power over the scythe,
how many cranes will it take to lift her
out of this drowning?
                                            If I tell you white
supremacist Lawrence Brewer was executed
five hours earlier for the murder of James Byrd—
if I ask you to look for birds foraging
between his intricate tattoos,
I don’t mean to distract you from the cross
that still burned on his arm that day.
I don’t expect you to stare into a graffiti
of iron-crosses and spider webs scrawled
across flesh and find a thrush vibrating with birdsong,
but I want you to know why I listen for more
than the cawing of crows:
                                            I wanted Brewer dead.
So dead, my tongue swelled fat with hexes, so fat
I wonder how forgive could ever fit inside my mouth.
Somehow it’s always there, fluttering in the larynx
of Ross Byrd—the man whose father was dragged,
urine soaked, by Lawrence behind a truck.
Watch him say it.
I swear,
the word has feathers. I want
to learn to get its wings between my teeth
before more retribution
blots out the sky.
                                            When I tell you
glare flickered off a cop’s visor
and startled a single crow away
from the murder that flapped the sky into inky pieces,
I want you to watch it close enough
to notice its feathers aren’t black at all.
Like bruises and ink, they are
only this full-bodied purple—purple your eyes
will still tell you is black the next time
you see it spread out across sky. Watch it
spread like the flush of pancuronium bromide
into diaphragm, watch close enough to pinpoint
when the muscles lock.
                                            If it is said the injection
is humane, we mean to say this
is humanity: no crack of rope, jerk
of limb, no bloated face, clenched jaw, or reek
rising twisted in smoke from a cooked torso—
we mean to say there is nothing to disturb
the nest between our ribs, there is nothing
to make a heartbeat rumble
like a murder of so many wings.

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter