In a self-portrait she holds a pheasant
in the left hand & both stare stern—
one eye turned to the viewer, the other
drifting towards the horizon.
The brim of her straw hat doubles
as a golden halo surrounding her.
The pheasant is her effigy, totem familiar,
guardian or guide—the two gazing
into a viewer who dares not gaze back.
Instead, we see the odd
truth of one who thinks too much
painted into the asymmetry of her face,
the reversal of twin figures—
saint & fowl dressed alike.
She’s twenty-eight & already
venerated, having suffered
the grief of the pigeon-toed, suffused
with the grace of the grotesque,
but knowing a work of art reveals
the burden of original sin, & in this light
when one paints oneself not as one looks,
but as one feels, she finds redemption
in the unforgiving haze of a lazy eye.
As a child she most loved the weirdest
chickens—one green eye & one orange,
crooked comb, & overlong neck.
She dressed them in twilled cotton
piqué coats & lace collars made by hand
& prayed for a three-legged
hen or one-winged goose,
& when none came, she trained two
grey bantams to walk backwards.
When she finally ordered her first bevy:
a cock, a hen, & three peabiddies,
she well knew the bird belonged to Hera,
wife of Zeus, but did she also know
the elephant-headed god rode a peacock
to fight dark spirits? Flannery, too,
fought fever to keep herself in this world,
bones gnarled in exaltation of being alive.
She leaned on her walking stick
to find balance in the roost,
the peacocks squawking & multiplying
like bread & loaves blessing
the grounds, nesting in crepe-myrtle
& shrubberies, making havoc
in the fig trees. Damn, they had a taste
for her mother’s flowers—geraniums,
hyacinth, & the summer damask roses
dedicated to Thérèse, the little flower,
who hung on a nail by a doorway.
Had she, too, seen her in a vision?
The peacocks had quite an appetite
but they were a coronation
among Muscovy ducks, ostriches, & emus,
the one-eyed swan who never mated.
The peafowl surround her in the aviary,
& she would study them, squinting
into a field of violent light, their long tails
shaking into many eyes, each a resurrection,
in unison watching her mind move,
their feathers fanning into a ritual dance
until she realizes, for the almost-blind
one creates the most startling figures.