“The Orison” by Rick Bursky

After hours behind the delicatessen counter
––slicing meat, building sandwiches
––my father comes home from work.
His white shirt, his name embroidered
above the pocket, is stained.
These were the days we wrote phone numbers
in pencil on the kitchen wall beside the phone.
Nightmares are technical schools a woman told me
a possum crawled through the pet door.
A commotion woke us. A glow of moonlight
on the possum’s long white snout, her parrot
lifeless in its mouth. My father stands
at the kitchen sink, rolls up his sleeves,
splashes cold water on his face, runs
wet hands through his thick black hair.
There are degrees of death; talking to a ghost is first,
then premonition, even deja vu.
Hierarchy is a personal matter.

The morning before my father died,
my mother found him on the bed,
pressing a pillow into the mattress,
sobbing and saying he was suffocating his shadow.
I’m too close to this story to tell it objectively.
My high school biology teacher stood in front
of the class and crushed a baby rabbit’s throat,
only took half a minute, legs kicking
as it hung from his hand. Mortality
isn’t the opportunity you think it is.

The woman put her parrot in a jewelry box,
buried it in the yard. It won’t be long
before this is a bunch of ballyhoo
and I come clean with my regrets.
My father’s last day is in a hospital room.
An old black and white movie flickering through static on a television,
my mother’s shadow on the wall.


Rick Bursky’s most recent book, I’m No Longer Troubled by The Extravagance, is out from BOA Editions. His next book, Where the Ocean Spills Its Grief, is also forthcoming from BOA. His poems have appeared in many literary journals and he teaches poetry for The Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

Andrew Reilly has published many photos in Another Chicago Magazine.