This week in the PEN Poetry Series, Guest Editor Dawn Lundy Martin features two poems by Erica Hunt. About Hunt’s work, Martin writes: “What pulls me unendingly into Erica Hunt’s poetry is its openness, its unspoken questions, alongside the questions made explicit. Hers is an investigation of interstitial urgency emergent from the cracks in America and its broken rhetoric, the cracks in our hearts, and that inevitable space between humans when we attempt to shrink the gap and get close. I love when it sings, too, precise in its attention to the line and the resplendent vowel and sometimes an ‘h’ like a vowel. These poems want to call us inside of them to wrestle with the ‘splintered and hushed,’ but they do so with a sonic hopefulness that leaves me breathless.”

Mourning Birds

Here a thousand birds dispute
The gun going off
the random back fire
who handled who
and who rose to be recognized
and how the body came to be fresh
fallen there
and why the girl was tackled
and how her wrists looked slight in hand cuffs
and the exact nature of the orange pin
and the load glassing her eyes
the load incalculable and
the incalculable load

Here a thousand birds dispute
the fresh blood on the sidewalk
the battle line, how it was drawn
how the sides were chosen
had there been a trial
Or any doubt and if so 
how it was framed
did the shot hang in the air and who 
was there to hear it, and here
Hold this thought—4 are shot per day

As xenon follows its element
Or night its day time shadow

As penumbra fades into solids

and endures a rain of blows
—there falls a reign of blows

Here a thousand birds dispute
What went wrong

the stopped clock
the orange pin
the random call

the fall from childhood
the fall, the incalculable fall,
the fall incalculable

this time to not let the familiar
obsequies masking obscenity
twist lips, the birds dispute

these too, the televised worship of cinders is riveting 
junk heartache abetted by hollow gestures

The birds’ disputations grow louder
frantic against glass 
stunned splintered and hushed,
in shadowy, honeyed innocence

The gun going off
The random back fire…..
appears as random as asking
who’s got the gun
who owns the gun
who sold the gun
who pulls the gun
and who does the gun let sleep.


Unlikely places 

There may be saints balanced on bar stools

Their de-accessioned memories vanishing in the mirror before them

yet foot tapping, rationing beats

as precisely as mallets run through 

time on drum skins.

They trade heart beats

back and forth, close the seams. I watch your face

between then and now, a work in progress

so ribboned with language

I don’t remember who flipped the rhythm to the horns

who set the drums on pin-wheeling 32nds

second thoughts.

We were atoms, confetti, confection

a bouquet of unattended notes, then bodies, then mass.

We were between sips of water

reading the wrong scores, imagining only fire and losses,

the glass emptied of its last melody 

then hear this: slide the deuce to the person 

who so unlikely brings air and dark wood to breathless sorrow (

a parenthesis to catch this brutal finitude. 



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).