Callbacks — J. M. McBirnie

                              “The only easy day was yesterday.”
                              —An unofficial motto of the U.S. Navy SEALs


My back presses against the panes
of the door. Behind its glass the drowsy
ashes cast their delicates, calloused

by the fall like painted eggshells. The foyer
whirs with three men I’ve enlisted to wade
through the words you droned when I drilled

you with the SEALs’ formulae. I say
we’re reviving “All’s Well” and watch their limping
lips read my rendition cold. One catches

a sneeze in his crooked arm leaking
disparate Arabic lettering, and I recall
the flu shots I shouldn’t need: the perennial

question regarding my allergies and whether
I should cede my arms or ends to some
virus resurrected in a cell.


               The first recruit scales the stage in a shirt
you’d say hailed from the ranks of a laundry’s lost and
found. I enfold him in the setting, how it’s filled

with wire doodling the air. Droop down and barbs can score
your hands. I have him furrow on elbows, chant: Wake
up, wake up, NAB. Wake up, wake up, it’s left

up to me. His balmy voice can’t betray what I
composed when mixing words you scattered between beds
hardly unmade and the afogotto I could

barely swallow. That’s what makes a tadpole strong. Cue
your litany of every countries’ infirmities.
But I’m just the same. I inject our life into

my scripts like any other woman, all turquoise-
laden and choking on her breath. The thanks I get:
you took up my rent; I, your mortality.

               The next probes in the spotlight’s vial where lights
reel his hand up to his brow, as if to make me
out from across a lake: the one in whose sour

film you sank with wrists trussed behind your back. He starts
before I give the scene. This is when I rained cold
water on you as you pushed-up, pulled-up and planked,

trembling: A frogman’s buddy is as good as gold.
Then you apostrophe: It’s my theatre. I see
again your pupils eclipsing your irises’

cracked rings. I dined before those eyes, sprang from linen
tables, pressed my hands against bathroom stalls, then found
in speckled mirrors that though my eyes burned, the cinders

beneath my lids won’t make for mascara at all.
I plant my finger in my philtrum and let him
leave the stage’s hole that the darkness has reserved.


               I bundle this one’s face with a burlap
sack, hide his unibrow that’s swabbed like birds I used
to draw. When you take it off, he rumbles, give me

a scenario. I uncloched your face like scallops
St-Jacques, dragged a knife, a branch or limb from behind
my back. He should see everything happens at once:

there’s no future. Without sleep, this isn’t even
happening to me.
The dust of the theatre
stirs as poppy pollen in meadows where you walked

girls to school. I don’t know about your Medeas,
Antigones or Alcetis . You need spectacles:
fingers draped with sand or kids tugging on their

mother’s robe. So settle for the thought of me, stalked
by your voice at BUD/S, echoing in the pitter
of the quitter’s bell with a plaited lock.


No curtain calls, but I won’t leave
here alone. I’ll go on to rehearse
the days you’d down the skim and leave me

with the whole. I hug an empty
carton and press my back on the fridge’s
door. I’ll consult those daffodils I save

in vinegar and lime. Once they swoon on lips
of glass, I can begin to undress
their petals, divine a muffled yes

and no. I won’t hold them anymore
but will bed them each outside,
where we’ll be brittled by the cold.


J. M. McBirnie is an Arabic translator, and his poems have appeared in the Jewish Literary Journal, Transference Magazine and Río Grande Review.