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Michael Salcman

Michael Salcman, a poet, physician and art historian, was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum. Poems appear in Arts & Letters, The Café Review, Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, New Letters, and Poet Lore. Books include The Clock Made of Confetti, The Enemy of Good is Better, Poetry in Medicine, his popular anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness & healing, A Prague Spring, Before & After, winner of the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize, and Shades & Graces, inaugural winner of The Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020). Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil (early 2022).


On the crossbar of a neighbor’s boat an angry wren
whistles his displeasure as we zipper our mainsail cover
and fold the Bimini shut. This noisy squatter thinks
he’s taken possession of our home on the water
and won’t retreat. Ta-wee ta-wee he screams.
My wife is sick of the filth, so we don’t stop working
the bungee cords and plastic hooks onto the boom,
encircling the steel cage of our sun shade,
stop up the folds of flaked canvas where birds have built
their nests, week after week for months.
Sailors know bungee cords are best for tying together
awkward cargo or hanging lines and fenders;
eye doctors fear the elastic snapping open as a major risk.
While tightening the cords we watch bits of straw
and weathered string slowly fall into the cockpit,
and a cracked hemisphere of shell lands at our feet
with a sticky spoonful of yellow. Very quickly
a squadron of wrens gathers in grief as well as in anger,
louder and louder, like the screaming gulls circling
the head of Tippi Hedron in Hitchcock’s Birds. Exhausted
we pause working; my wife gives up the broken shell
to Back Creek where it briefly floats then sinks.
We talk of strategy, a plastic owl affixed to the mast
might be the answer or shiny strips of Mylar hung
from the shrouds to scare the birds away.
I have my doubts: despite a nearby forest of trees
the wrens sit on our spars instead, watching us clean
the messes they’ve made, the one on the boat
and the one in our heads, defeated by the meek.


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