Landfill Orchids

Nov 24, 2017

Today’s poem is Landfill Orchids by Colin Cheney. Colin Cheney is the author of Here Be Monsters, a National Poetry Series selection. He is creator and co-host of the podcast Poet in Bangkok, and an editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art. Colin teaches at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at the Maine College of Art.

He writes, “ Landfill Orchids was born out of the landscape of my parents’ farm on the Waldoboro and Warren line. While also housing his tractor, rototiller, (and) broken motorcycle, the barn is a repository for all my father’s found and salvaged things—many discovered at the old Warren dump…When I was growing up, the barn housed dozens of swallows’ nests, but then they stopped returning for some reason. ‘A momentary stay against confusion’—Robert Frost’s words--- is how I’ve come to think of all the things gleaned and gathered into the barn: spools of rope, a broken pump organ, blueberry rakes, chests of bird skins, windows from a church vestry, broken marble, a barrel of antlers, axles of wagons, moth-eaten stuffed turnkeys and owls with glass eyes.”

Landfill Orchids
by Colin Cheney

Finding a swallow chick
     fallen on the floor of the barn
by a pool of cobalt grease
     leaked from the Ford 8-N

we gave her to the compost, feeding
the landfill orchids & thistles
with her cold, lake body.
When my sister drank poison

from under the bathroom sink
     I flew through each room, bewildered
as the poison control officer
     talked my parents through

how to purge her stomach,
     or maybe telling them not to,
some poisons doing a second damage
     that way. What a musical notation

her dreams must have been, her liver
     breaking the chemical down, as starlings
turn the oil of poison ivy berries
     into bruise-glossed feathers or

owls boil the flesh from skulls
     of voles into the pure calories
of their night-seeing. In our barn
     we’ve chest marked “Bird Skins”

our father found at the landfill
     & my sister & I wonder what became
of the specimen shrouds that lined the trays.
     one to each typed label: chimney swift,

cactus wren, vireo, barn owl
     & barn swallow. Making dinner
tonight, we fold corn, red onion
     & peppers into discs of dough

she rolls out, & I brush a yolk
     over each turnover, listen for the birds
burrowing under the orchids, in the oven 
     of the compost drum.

Poem copyright © 2010 Colin Cheney.
Reprinted from here be monsters, University of Georgia Press, 2010,
by permission of Colin Cheney.