red red red

Red Red Red

Sent from the breakfast room on a Sphinx' errand, I became
not childlike, as charged,

but windowseat nestling, small bird roosted in red moreen.

Outside the glass, sea of slick grass and storm-stripped shrubbery,
the lowering November light like a chilblain;

inside, Bewick hatched in my lap. I was feathered and sistered
among the pale fjord-birds, at home

on islands of rock in the midst of shocked ocean, the battery of waves—

the sea teaching the ghostly birds nothing
but how to be more like themselves: each storm-beat bird still bird.

Enter cousin John, gorged, dinge-skinned Caligula
looking for something to smash that would satisfy by staying so

and finding my feather-light frame like a constant cough,
my white face a bull’s-eye midst the scarlet curtains.

These were my choices: to be hit and break,
or to be hit. 

What does the pugilist teach the battered punching bag,
the archer or rifleman the target’s straw-stuffed shadow?

How to snap back to center after the blow. 
How to take the loosed dart like swallowing—

Launch my own kin at me: Bewick's leaves flapping like wings,
the blunt edge of the binding cruel as beak or talons,

cruel as a night closed in the Iron Maiden room, walls grisly
with velvet burnout and the house's terrorizing, spike-bled ghosts.

The next time your hands fall on me, I will bend to brute will,
the next time, I will be obedient

the next time, but not before
you see me felled, bloodied and still Jane,

the next time, know your hands fall not on me
but a whole flock of wildness, a wet-winged avian legion,

my voice like a cold wind screaming around the haunted rocks,
calling what's outside in:

come, rat, mad cat, bad animal,
come unfettered thing, come small bird to fly fly,

reveal the frail gray thing to be red-pinioned,
my blood sprayed indelibly on the page in the shape of a wing.

~ by erinn batykefer
from ".... (a) new book, which is still in the draft phase and tentatively titled "The Book of Monsters," (this book) weaves together two series of poems: one, a lyrical re-imagination of Charlotte Bronte's novel; and the other, a series of epithalamia that focus not on the traditional event of a marriage, but the moment when a person makes an irrevocable choice."
Bewick, Thomas - author and illustrator of "A History of British Birds", 1797 and 1804 respectively


goatman said...

It's too bad that one must dig through the mire of this horrible "poem" to find the gem-reference of Bewick's work. But such is the experience of discovery, I guess.

I wonder if any of his original woodcuts still exist -- looks like beautiful work.

Lee said...

Metaphor...metaphor...metaphor by the score...love it!

red dirt girl said...

Hmmm .... goatman. You've not stated why the poem is "horrible".

Bewick - interesting in that he carved and published for 'the amateur naturalist'. His books are considered the first 'field guides' published.

A set of first edition's sold for $300,000 last year. You can buy a re-printed set for $250 on Amazon.com.

Upon further research, apparently there have been multiple publications hence that feature Bewick's original woodcuts - these can be had for small sums of money on ebay.

To view the ORIGINAL ORIGINALS on this side of the Atlantic:

University of Chicago,
Cornell University and the
Edmonton Art Gallery, CAN.

An exhaustive link list can be found here at Squidoo:



(ps. watch out for 'The Birds' ...)

red dirt girl said...

Hi Lee!

I suppose one must be fairly familiar with Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Bewick to fully appreciate this poem. And to undertake the re-working of a lengthy novel into a lyrical poem format is .... a large undertaking. Or ambitious, I suppose.

I do so love the metaphors.


J Cosmo Newbery said...

I must confess it is too complex for me.

goatman said...

"These were my choices: to be hit and break,
or to be hit. " Do I need this image? Are there no other choices?

By "original woodcuts" I meant the actual wood that he carved into. I guess to be accurate I should have said the "original cut wood", sorry.

red dirt girl said...

Okay. I understand your loathing of violence and violent images.

The poet herself was raised in a violent home. Her poetry reflects what she knows.

As for the wood that is cut, can't help you with that one.

But hey - you'll always have Bewick ...