from The Turkey Hen

Lucas Bernhardt



One improbable mows the lawn,

another trims the hedges.

Sunlight pours from the forehead

to the ground, where ants as ghosts

enjoined to walk the whole

continuously out of focus

offer one another little

collisions like encouragement.

Forearm across the forehead,

a slow in coming translation.

What equivalence can there be

to the gift turkey

that uncovered the king’s armor?

What happened next to the turkey?

Sister informs brother

she defeated him in childhood,

she defended him in childhood.

Brother tells baby brother

just roll with it.

There was a king whose queen

died in childbirth.

There was a king who after

a year of weeping died.

On the forehead appears a cloud.









Can you believe the turkey dug all the way

to a trap door and hidden staircase?

If the science of the day could dramatize

more accurately, elegantly

the royal prerogative

may it blind itself with quicklime

and enjoy an age or two of peace.

Let the holiday trees planted along the border

send their roots down to the sewers

and grow to unimagined heights.

For a time, our grandparents believed

said door lay just beneath the topsoil

of the mind. They took some wild vacations.

Let those be forgotten, else attributed to fate.









The king was buried

to the forehead

in the forest

watching a blade of grass

oppose the ground.

His advisors spoke

in voices of gravel

displaced by hooves.

The horse were coming

as always, and so

the advisors retired.

He lay in the reeds

among geese

in the morning

lifting their bills

to a confusion of breeze.

To the blade arisen

he said victory for now.

A halo of distress

he called adumbration

surrounded each tree.

       Horsemen arrived

and refreshed their mounts.

Setting fire to the woods,

the king inaccessible

received their thanks.









Being an orphan without knowledge

of her origins, the sister

had an advantage

when, as custom, she exchanged

inquiries into the health

and disposition of the house

in greeting. The woman,

untroubled, asked several

times about her brother.

Some unreality creeps

into our relations

when affirmed, some ants

the built walls and rafters.

From a bag the woman

pulled a turkey, for Christmas.

What’s Christmas?

That festival our descendants

sometimes kept, with song

and food and unaccountable

goodwill. Over customary

objections the woman

insisted: here, take the turkey.


The flightless bird of youth,

harbor and home of inaction,

the one who tends to fate

with delicious little claws.


How could the sister not love

life for its absurdities;

the sister, to be known

as the sister! And then

beneath the floor in this corner

of their cellar home, the turkey

promptly excavated

a dark well. The lid, once wood,

now gaped blindly to the well

bottom, where rose

a low mound with flat

black terraces. Something

like a colony of ants, all workers,

had fallen from free colonies

above. Unable to return

to their maternal nest, in cold

and total darkness, the rain

of ants kept their discipline,

forming the mound, tending

the entrances, and terracing the dead.

Their numbers were replenished,

increased, when each spring

the nearest colonies swelled.

Gray, black, little strings of movement:

this was the turkey’s first revelation.









Alone in the dark room

there were often visitors,

foreign ministers too shy

to speak, merchants untempted

to pause, familiar-seeming

children begging alms

a touch theatrically.

Sometimes after finding

the mat with her toe

and having lain there

who knows how long

the sister would see

a woman seated

daylit above her

reaching toward her

in calm reassurance.

The woman could reach

a long time without touching,

but in contact it was

as if the sister

were a different person.

She would panic a moment,

looking around the room,

wondering what

she had lost, and when

she was touched again,

she would again feel new

and removed from that

brief self already

distantly remembered,

and would panic less

with each ensuing touch

until it was the sun

she saw at the window,

unknowing that she’d passed

through the T-shaped halls

beneath the castle.









So pleased with fate the youth made vows

and established new routines.

Sweet mornings, savories at eventide,

and in between

a woman arrives the way a woman arrives

in a dream, possibly

having stood in the center of the room

unnoticed a long time.

A friend of his mother whose gifts were known

by few in the region, who

with a gesture like permitting a fist of sand

to fall between her fingers

could brush aside the curtain of the moment

and in translation render

the smell of grass in the air as a visual

phantasm. An inscrutable thing

to make the beams and tapestries weep,

to hear the hammer

of the man repairing cobblestones

as though composed

of the fine bones of an ear below the dirt.

Then the air

of the room is hinged, swings open, and

who would dare enter?

To walk up the black hill, billowing

like the fires that speak

from the fuels that they consume,

even here the youth

whose father abandoned fatherhood, whose mother

had no choice,

suspects a kind of pretext of the rush of

countervailing oddities

in an otherwise ordinary day.

Some unhappy soul

is gushing smoke. Why not me?









LUCAS BERNHARDT manages the PSU Writing Center, teaches writing at Oregon College of Art and Craft, and is Poetry Editor at Propeller Magazine.