Poetry by Heather Bourbeau

The Birdmen of Istanbul[1]


I have walked through the night to capture you.

You and I have hid in the brush, unaware how close,

how sweet, our breaths coming together to feed the trees.


I have followed the arc of the river, sat in the urine

of deer and dormice, kept myself quiet

to capture your song.


I have carved wood from the forest you once called home

to decorate this cage, line it with fabric and paper,

cover your flash of gold, crown of red, to provoke pain.


I have found the company of men who know

the attraction of denial, the beauty of survival,

the straining to be heard.


I have savored the sweetest sorrow from your voice

as you cry for a female who will never come

to find you, love you, and save you.


I have ached for your slavery to liberate me.

My freedom in your pain.


[1] In Istanbul, there is a secretive and illegal community of men who keep birds, particularly male goldfinches, in cages to encourage plaintive songs (if concealed from a female in mating season, the male goldfinch’s song becomes more mournful). The men then gather in particular cafes to listen to the birds’ songs together.




Heather Bourbeau’s fiction and poetry have been published in Alaska Quarterly ReviewCleaverEleven Eleven, Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Chalkboard, Open CityThe Stockholm Review of Literature, and the anthologies Nothing Short Of 100: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story and America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience (Sixteen Rivers Press). She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia.


%d bloggers like this: