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By Jamaal May

For Detroit

There are birds here,

so many birds here

is what I was trying to say

when they said those birds were metaphors

for what is trapped

between buildings

and buildings. No.

The birds are here

to root around for bread

the girl’s hands tear

and toss like confetti. No,

I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,

I said confetti, and no

not the confetti

a tank can make of a building.

I mean the confetti

a boy can’t stop smiling about

and no his smile isn’t much

like a skeleton at all. And no

his neighborhood is not like a war zone.

I am trying to say

his neighborhood

is as tattered and feathered

as anything else,

as shadow pierced by sun

and light parted

by shadow-dance as anything else,

but they won’t stop saying

how lovely the ruins,

how ruined the lovely

children must be in that birdless city.


Notes:

The epigraph of this poem was originally omitted in the changeover to the new website. Because of this, reciting the epigraph is optional for the 2019-2020 Poetry Out Loud season.

Jamaal May, "There Are Birds Here" from The Big Book of Exit Strategies. Copyright © 2016 by Jamaal May. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016)

  • Arts & Sciences
  • Living
  • Nature

Poet Bio

Jamaal May
Jamaal May was born and raised in Detroit. His first book, Hum (2013), won a Beatrice Hawley Award and an American Library Association Notable Book Award and was an NAACP Image Award nominee. Hum explores machines, technology, obsolescence, and community; in an interview, May stated of his first book, “Ultimately, I’m trying to say something about dichotomy, the uneasy spaces between disparate emotions, and by extension, the uneasy spaces between human connection.” May has taught poetry in Detroit public schools and worked as a freelance sound engineer. He has taught in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program and codirects, with Tarfia Faizullah, the Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook and Video Series.

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