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Since 1996 Volume XXI

Jeanne Wagner


Jeanne Wagner is the recipient of several national awards. Her poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Valparaiso Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and American Life in Poetry. She is on the editorial board of California Quarterly. Her most recent book, In the Body of Our Lives, was released by Sixteen Rivers press in 2011.

Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump


            on Joseph Wright’s painting depicting a recreation of Boyle’sxperiment in which a bird is deprived of oxygen



He paints the scene by candlelight,

so we can feel how shadows


their separate caresses

on the faces of the guests

who’ve come to watch experiment

as parlor trick.


They see a  faintish  glow


each taper-lit tuck

of lace

that’s pulled back to show

the paleness of the women’s wrists

and breasts,


while melting tallow sends

its reek of wick-singe

around the tired old magus

at the center,

who looks past them all

as if he’s performed this task

far too many times to care. 


Someone’s wife weeps


comforted by her husband’s

reassuring grasp,

while the lovers embrace,

attending only to each other,

as if there’s just one experiment

they can bother with.


Only the girl stares

up at the bird and watches

him drown                                                                              

in his flask of preempted air,

as she does each morning

when the bell of her dress

is pulled down

over her eyes and mouth,


and she feels her arm flail,

uncertain of its sleeve,

like the bird, his one extended wing,

a single oar,

rowing him round and round

inside the glass.


First published in Asheville Review



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