Poem 3 ± June 7, 2015

Merrill Cole
How the Nightingales Lost Their Hands

I was going to tell you the story of a friend who died, but he was not my friend. He
wanted to write it in such a way that the grief was your own, your hand wiping his
forehead with the soiled handkerchief, your tears the real ones.

He was terrified the lost message was not truly lost, a nightmare refusing to fade at the
moment of waking. It was as if he had become human.

You were telling him a story about how the nightingales lost their hands. You said, peace
is only the silence between statues. I said, no, peace is the flag of surrender, the place
where they buried their dead.

It’s not fair to say he found them. You always knew what they were hiding, but you had
to let someone else say it. Quite dirty, but you could see through.

The open windows, bright as oblivion. There was nothing more to cry about. He was
going to tell you the story of the day I lost my voice. I felt no grief, because the
nightmare ended.

It was as if you had died, your humanity the real one. There was nothing more to write
about. I wanted to hold him, but I found I had no hands.

Merrill_ColeMerrill Cole teaches literature, queer studies, and creative writing at Western Illinois University.

The poem appeared in Poetic Diversity, vol. 10, no. 1 (April 2013).