Museum Dream: An Experiment on a Bird
in the Air Pump
(Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768)
Some of us can’t help staring into the bulb,
savoring the last breaths of the white, crested bird,
her pulsing and failing; others of us,
like Brueghel’s ploughman, barely pay attention.
The scientist’s hungry face is lined, cut off
from remorse, a distant concept in a language
long neglected. When he speaks, his voice grinds:
Ladies, gentlemen, observe the vacuum at work.
Tonight, I inhabit the girl in the blue sash, her face
hidden behind the blinders of her hand, her face not even
considered by Wright, entirely my own invention,
though she is not the figure I revisit most—
not her, nor the lovers, nor her dumb, patient father,
not the demonic assistant unhooking the drapes,
poised to sever us from the moon, but the philosopher,
who can’t quite watch or entirely turn away,
whose gaze is locked on the table’s high varnish.
The philosopher, who can never move, his thoughts
soldered to the body of the bird. Where would he go?
There is no other room.
Jen Jabaily-Blackburn is a 4th year MFA student at the University of Arkansas. Originally from Boston, MA, she lives in Fayetteville, AR, with her husband and their intrepid hound.
“Coming from Boston, because it is cold (or perhaps because we are a cold people), front porches are in short supply. My grandmother and grandfather had a place that we called the front porch, though it was more of a large, glassed-in entryway, and was actually at the back entrance of the house (which, to confuse matters more, was used by the family and most guests as the main entrance-in my family, front doors are generally ornamental). In any case, the porch had a hammock, and I spent maybe 99% of my childhood in it. Yes, 99%. I did the math.”