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On the History of Disrepair

Augury: The ancient art of telling the future by watching the flight of birds.

I tell him, “It is such a shame true love isn’t real.”

The wrens make a racket with their singing, but I hardly notice it most of the time, walking around as I do, so expansive and tar-shingled, red-bricked and clay-piped with all those little wires and switch plates and hardly even knowing my own attic-nested rafter beams.

He says, “It is to me.” And I fall asleep with my head on this chest.

Wrens like us for our rubbish and always have. They’re old friends, or would be, if we were paying attention.

We used to find abandoned cabins on every hike we took. The roof would be gone, the furniture too, all the glass, but still we would find at least one and up to three of the following: a single boot, a black Sunday suit, a handbag, a teacup, a blue jar full of buttons, a toolbox, a closet still wallpapered in pretty roses.

There comes a time I tell him, “It is a shame true love isn’t real,” and he agrees, “It is.”

When Genevieve Jones, the nineteenth century ornithologist, painted a nest—and she only painted nests, sometimes eggs, never the artfully posed corpse of a dead bird—she made a list of all the materials the nest was made of—ribbons, copper wire, horsehairs. But when she painted wren nests they were always just sticks, feathers, and a little straw, which is predictable, so instead she listed all of the places she’d heard of wren nests being found.

And I say, “What?”

A buggy top, a beehive, an old boot, a hat, the pocket of a coat.

The Forest Service boys spent a weekend burning down every known cabin in our woods. For safety and security, they said, as if we don’t all know how they love a big fire and the badge that gives them the right to do it.

He says, “I’m afraid I’m becoming those things you hate—predictable, repetitive, intransigent.”

The wren never repeats the same song twice when he courts. Later he whispers his songs to his mate when she nests.

I say, “Stop it.” He says, “It is to me.” I fall asleep with my head on his chest like a heart beating in a shoe, the morning light pouring into a cup of porcelain and straw and feathers.

Some theories of Augury:

____Dominion is real and terrible and I want it.

____If I had dominion everything would be different.

____I don’t have dominion.

____There is a god and the god speaks through birds.

____There are birds, they are one kind of god.

____There are birds. We used to speak the same language.


KATHRYN NUERNBERGER’s third poetry collection, Rue, is forthcoming in Spring 2020 (BOA). The End of Pink (BOA, 2016), won the 2015 James Laughlin prize from the Academy of American Poets, and Rag & Bone (Elixir, 2011) won the 2010 Antivenom Prize. A collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (Ohio State University Press, 2017), won the Non/Fiction Prize from The Journal. She teaches in the MFA Program at University of Minnesota and has received grants from the NEA, American Antiquarian Society, and the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life.


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