"there's no through trail" —Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

We Will Never Mend This
by Jeff Burt

Issue: Spring 2017


Winner, R.T. Smith Prize for Narrative Poetry
Judge’s Comments:
“We Will Never Mend This” considers the death of “the last heron” and mourns it along with personal losses but also recognizes “the bizarre/ and beautiful bounty of life diminishing.”  One feature I was especially drawn to was the almost exploding litany of metaphors breaking the narrative in the central stanza.  I’m certain that readers will be moved by the poem, or in more traditional terms “instructed and delighted.”

We Will Never Mend This

The last heron died in the weeds
of the San Lorenzo River
in a spoon-shaped backwater,
its beak that struck the skein of the pool
and pierced the gleaming images below
now a short spear on a frame without feather or flesh,
neck concealed by fallen reeds
as if the green world’s attempt at a blanket of concealment—
that death did not sadden,

that the skeleton of a frog lodged at the top
of the heron’s torso, legs curled back and stuck
as if trying to hide from the act of engorgement,
the way a kidnapped child pretends in fetal tuck
that violence cannot find him,
the way a woman curls to fend the blows
her drunken man provides,
that death did not sadden,

that I also had this knot wedged below my throat
obstructing my breath, jammed, lodged
and not slipping down or wasting away,
a rock of sorrow wedged into a space
constricting my lungs from gathering a clean breath,
like an oversized frog trapped among feathers,
that all of this was no coincidence,
this recognition, this hole by bare hands
dug in the mud on the side of the river
and the bones and the beak sliding softly,
feathers separating, frog displaced
into a separate depression, that internal death
did not sadden, but the knot
coming apart, the grief following,
hands rinsed in the river, the bizarre
and beautiful bounty of life diminishing,
everything at once coming unstitched–

We will never mend this.


Jeff Burt lives in California with his wife amid the redwoods and two-lane roads wide enough for one car. He has work in The Watershed Review, The Nervous Breakdown Spry, Atticus Review, and Per Contra. He was the featured 2015 summer issue poet of Clerestory, and won the 2016 Consequence Fiction Prize.