Marci Calabretta

Spotlight: Your Mouth is Full of Birds / Orchard / Penance

Your Mouth is Full of Birds

You asked me once at dawn about forgiveness and I said
I didn’t think you had any need to be forgiven and you said

nothing, pointing instead to the tangerine branches
heavy with four-petaled flowers and a rookery of crows branded

like oiled umber in the sunlight. How grave the silences tucked
in each wing and beneath your tongue, silences you later tucked

into my suitcase when I wasn’t looking, letters written in memory
whose creases I smoothed over and over until I could remember

the gray trunks of the tangerine orchards, how each flower smelled,
each fruit peeled and quartered, full of tongues that still swell

in my dreams and burst into a hundred miles of telephone wires,
the silhouettes of birds still attached. Now, after all this while,

when you come to me at night with your mouth full of birds,
I think that you meant you forgave me for the rookery,

because they left their wings on my window, not yours. Oh how they follow
me still through this city, crying for you with every red-throated swallow.


Grandmother sent a box
of tangerines and a small
glass teapot, but
the tangerines had
spoiled. I sparked
the stove for the kettle,
dropped my last
tea leaves, poured
the hot water.
Through the glass,
the dried tea flowers
bloomed, filled
the studio with orchards
of tangerines. That night,
I dreamed of black
pigs rooting in lava
rockbeds, caterpillars
carrying evening
spun from the day’s silk,
crows shedding
coarse feathers
against the coffin
of my window.


And outside the crows besiege the window ledge
while she rifles through the mesh bag of tangerines,
testing each with all five fingertips,
digging her thumbnail into the fleshiest skins,
remembering the orchards back home.

Orchards full of stars the color of tangerines,
almost the color of koi or orioles, not quite
saffron or crocoite. Orchards blooming
mandarin and white, five-petaled crowns
sweet and citrus among the dimpled rinds.

Each night in this tiny room she unrolls her bed
beside drying canvases and turpentined brushes
speckled of paint, aware of the absence
of dried fish and sea brine, here the tangerines
are unripe, not yet full and nectarous—

she can tell by the weight in her palm,
the rim of space between peel and flesh.
She splits open the white-veined fruit,
spritzes the air with a sweet cloud of citrus.
Inside, the tangerine is ripe small pairs of lungs.

She runs her tongue over the strange membrane,
veined and pulpy, delicate and swollen.
The skin breaks, exhales a mouthful of nectar,
and she devours sweet portions of breath
over and over with each piece of tangerine.

This is the second thirst to be quenched. Later,
the other tangerines will spoil and harden,
their own lungs full of orange light.
And now the crows are tapping on the window,
hungry for the pips and rind, the body void of breath.

Marci CalabrettaMarci Calabretta is the recipient of poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Her work has appeared most recently in American Letters & Commentary, Chautauqua, and The MacGuffin, and her chapbook, Last Train to the Midnight Market, was published by Finishing Line Press. She is co-founder and managing editor for Print-Oriented Bastards, and an assistant editor for Jai-Alai Magazine.