Joshua McKinney


To the Chief Musician

The world puts forth its crying, 
                         hurled into the future’s morning after.
            A cold wind flays the trees.

                         Leaves whirl with the crows, 
their dark sayings shining 
            to any ear inclined. I hear

the shards of voices, hearken 
                         unto a void that words believe 
            yet cannot know. A notion

                         of wind and leaves and crows 
sutures the mind against the dimmest
            glimmer of laughter lining each day—

a token of hope 
                         that the flayed can turn 
            a cold wind golden.


The Understanding

Each morning the scrub jay proclaims
             something I’ve forgotten       something
sacred         something wholly 

Not in his tongue does the fallacy exist 
             only in my translation of it?

Perched at my desk I watch him 
                           outside on a live oak branch.                 
and then he drops to the lawn to eat a grub
               or grab an acorn which he stores 
always out of sight.       
                                           I’ve read that he can recall 
up to two hundred caches            the type of food in each and 
               its rate of decay.           
                                          Such facts        
                               refracted by symbolic action  are all I have 
                to know birds by.   
In his sermon St. Francis accused some birds 
             (“ye neither sow nor reap”) 
                                         but they     in gratitude        expressed their joy 
             by motion and by sounds—
                         those sweet ones 
we call song—                  unlike the screech 
                                          of the scrub jay on his branch
tilting his head as he watches me 
                           with one dark eye      as if to say      Why 
                                         do you not understand my speech?
And if I could bring myself to answer:

                                      Because I cannot hear your word      you 
             whose lineage is land      whose element is air
foundry of your voice      
                                        molding all sound 
to its likeness       both wondrous and strange. 
            If all that I can understand were all there is . . . 
but no        the jay is otherwise     
                             a something       I cannot translate or touch.         
          What won’t suffice 
Must       and that fact draws me to my desk 
                      each morning     
where distracted by the racket outside 
                                                       my understanding
           within the limit of this language
I rejoice in its failing      
                                    in the mind’s grateful
graceful sense of boundary—     
                          the faith 
that I am favored with
                                        such bounty.



whoso it thought 
            its burst and botherView Page

      consider some mother’s came side-born
this world brought other victims
      & they would be least words to us

to many & of me  
enter now leafborn      consider

       how worshiped was the serpent in the hole 
the wolf  bad as he they declared 
       or it consider      or born they consider

he name forth as a such 
               until the strangeness is
       invisible little wave catch what is fell  
& least to touch          & half polluted
       point to those as yet by lettered forgetting

own the one unlikely 
thought across the notes

       gone beyond flowers O purpleward  horizon 
where we wait to call it language 
       exhaust into yolk the beautiful beast of it

with ear to hear earth-
            breath will wren thee 
       sung in unknowing 
myself a traveler passed like rain
       a song here hoping up somewhere

the is once returned to it
into a lost

       the lair lips the birth    peace in the limbs 
of the horse in the scale of the snake
       forever savage the meaning
& whoso would it enter          
            enter it

       be as thou & bid come 
creatures themselves 
       & betwixt pains dwell surely

be they hid as oft as thou 
before it were such     lord



Joshua McKinney is the author of three books of poetry. His work has appeared in Boulevard, Denver Quarterly, Kenyon Review, New American Writing, Poetry International, Volt and many other journals.