Poems from

The man on the other end of Houston’s local suicide hotline said his name was Blain. He had the nasal voice of a Texas weatherman: its kazoo-like lilt and swampy, Gulf Coast slowness. “I guess you know why I’m calling,” I said. Blain said he did not know and why didn’t I tell him. I told Blain that my life was falling apart. I told Blain how clichéd it was that I just said that, and I was a poet and hated clichés. I told Blain that every citizen in my former city—Richmond, Virginia—and my current one—Houston, Texas—was now aware of the affair I’d had before the breakup of my seven-year relationship. That the day after the blowout in which my newly minted ex, Carrick, kicked me out of our apartment, I’d defended my dissertation in a circle of English professors at the University of Houston in a pursed-smile stupor. “What does the color red symbolize in your work, Anna?” Dr. Serrano had asked me, cocking her head. I wanted to rip the blinds from the office window. I wanted to shout, “This is how I feel about red!” Afterward, instead of celebrating my years of hard work in graduate school and the fact that …

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The skin of a dead starling is hardier than you’d think. It’s tissue-fine yet lizard-like—wheat-colored chainmail for an airborne knight. During my first class at Prey Taxidermy, in downtown Los Angeles, I could see in the slit breast of my specimen a mix of delicacy and toughness, the bird’s firm insides cool from the freezer and as flush as a plum. Allis Markham, the owner of Prey, is a wisecracking thirty-two-year-old with fair skin and dyed-black hair. Around the studio, she wears a ponytail and simple button-up with rolled sleeves, but in a glamorous portrait on Prey’s website, Allis poses between two taxidermied housecats like a deadpan 1940s pin-up star: carmine lipstick and a dark rockabilly pompadour. In 2008, Allis (pronounced “Alice”) quit her marketing job at Disney, where she earned a six-figure salary, to attend the Advanced Taxidermy Training Center in Montana. In her studio on the fourth floor of an arts building on Spring Street, Allis offers a range of weekend workshops for an array of misfits, hipster-craftspeople, Hollywood-types—and the plain old morbidly curious, like me. I decided to take Allis’s recommended course for beginners, Birds 101. ~ As a child, I kept a number of pets: a strawberry-blond hamster, a pair of …

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