John Dudek

The Tortoise and The Bird


Today my head’s upon the table.
Less like a saint’s than my grandfather’s
the day my mother spotted him
from a kitchen window, parked in the drive
with his brow against the steering wheel
of a yellow Skylark. When my mother sprang
from the screen door, her father rolled
the extra few yards to the garage and killed
the motor before walking into the kitchen.
This may not be what you expected.
Nothing came of it, after all. Nothing came of it
besides a young girl’s dark epiphany that unkindness
was not peculiar toward her, that yes,
perhaps a woman could be cruel to her daughter
and yes, to her husband too. When I last walked
that driveway, I didn’t know who lived
behind the kitchen window. But I did know
the weeds reaching for something higher
divided the pavement like the back of a tortoise.
Once, there was a car there I’d now think beautiful—
yellow as a Caravaggio, hollow as a shell.
I think of it after my latest unkindness,
how I wish I inherited it instead of just this
restless leg, jawline, and bone citadel.
Once there was a tortoise, once there was a bird.

John Dudek is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he also serves on the editorial staff of Ninth Letter.