about the author

Sam Cha lives in Cambridge, MA. He just finished his first year at the MFA program for poetry at UMass Boston. He won the Academy of American Poets Prize at his school this year, and is a regular contributor to Radius.

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The Conference of the Birds

Sam Cha

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After Spicer

Dear Jack,

Heard you talking to Lorca the other day. Didn’t catch the whole conversation. It was loud in Harvard Square and there were flecks of grit flying in the wind like the tiniest paper airplanes in the world, or ghost money: I really think you should give Boston another chance—it’s probably more like California now you’re dead. All I remember is you were saying something about skulls, something about sunlight or maybe traffic signals. Lorca was talking in Spanish, which I don’t know, but it’s OK, I kind of like it that way, and I must say I liked his green vowels but couldn’t see how he was making them, so I don’t believe you when you say the perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.

And underground do you exchange teeth sometimes, do you pluck from your mouth a molar stained by strong whiskey and black earth and hand it to him like candy? Can his bones taste your bones? I hope you do. I hope they can. Let me know.



A non-sonnet arranged from fourteen lines about birds by Jack Spicer

A swallow whispers in my loins
I throw a naked eagle in your throat.
“And are we angels, Bird?”
They call me bird-girl, parrot girl and worth
The time of any bird;
I sing a newer song no ghost-bird sings.
The bird’s screaming is empty as a lake.
And no one but a bird could hear our voice.
I was a singer once, bird-ignorant.
Birdlimed in Eloquence.
What have I lost? The trees were full of birds.
The sun becomes a nest of singing birds
Sings through the mirror at me like a whippoorwill
An ugly bird, call him the heart’s agony.

Things You Can Learn About Birds From Reading The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer

1. There were more birds when Jack was young. Most birds were seagulls.

2. Exceptions: swans, doves, crows, sparrows, robins, thrushs, jaybirds, canaries, herons, wrens, gamecocks, swallows, eagles, owls, roosters, ostriches, larks, frigate birds, mockingbirds, cormorants, buzzards, geese, ravens, nightingales. Birds are almost always real.

3. But some birds aren’t birds: a girl, the sea, a lover, light, heart’s agony, the Holy Ghost, a cock, a wet dream, Charles Olson, Charlie Parker, sun, moon, you, me, the Holy Grail. Other birds aren’t. They’re just words.

4. When you see a “cock,” it’s usually not a bird.

5. Robins wear red (but that’s such an imprecise word) Blasers. I don’t know why Duncan was a thrush. Sparrows are ugly, sad. They’re Jack-sparrows.

6. All the same, Jack looks like a movie star: Peter Lorre.

7. Did you know Jack once worked as a private detective?

8. Each evening in half-light California, Jack draws the blinds, lights a cigarette, puts his feet up on his desk. Pours two fingers of Scotch. The door opens, admits blackbird shadow whistling Grieg. Jack reaches for his gun. When the gunsmoke clears, light stripes the dead face like welts:

9. he recognizes himself. He is never surprised.

Afterlife: Jack Spicer Mishears Morrissey on May Day

ashed a cigarette on a sidewalk peony, blew smoke
in the faces of all and sundry. I was looking for some
words and then I found some birds. But I was more
before I began. My only weakness was for wistful
rhymes. Now I am the sum of my hair. Spring-heeled
Jim lives a lie; Springfield Slim blurts the words. Spring
spring, spring, men women birds fer fuckssake singing.
Why? Every May is like some May where you go
home on your own and you die and you want to cry
so ask me ask me ask me. There were weeks and weeks
when I knew how Joan of Arc felt. Midnight strikes again
and again and the sun, the air? Tokens for nothing.
Always a future war on Channel Four. Shoplift some
Scotch. Take cover: it’s over and it’s over and it’s over.

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