Sharla Benedict


Elegy for the Birdman


Prague, 1995

Goodbye, sir, and farewell. We’ve sealed you in a box
of snaps shot at Borat when the walls were carmine
etched with revolutionary graffiti.

In them you tilt and flutter, your five-day beard
catching the gaslight. We didn’t learn your name,
Birdman, not ever, and it took a while to realize

you’d gone missing: perhaps swept up with the trash
before workers in blue headed to the pub for pints.
Perhaps you fell in front of a bus, before the subway

man could apply his brakes--pitched into that chasm
between platform and wall, squawking and flapping
in your usual way. Perhaps you fell before you fell,

before the job mopping vomit and loose change
from Borat’s floors, before rum, the lost professorship,
the Warsaw tanks in ’68, before we drank

to your health while you grimaced and bobbed
over grog. Perhaps it’s true what we have heard
about the gulag and your rejection

of that splendid Slavic growl, choosing to tongue
instead only birdsound. Perhaps you’ve gone back
to the sanitarium to crouch and chirr in a soft cell,

spreading your spurred fingers toward a narrow notch
of sunlight. Cau. Nazdar. Dobrou noc.
You have lifted from the straw, wings churning

the thick air, your voice released at last
as you soar beyond Hradcany,
leaving behind only tufts of hair.