The Bush Warbler Laments to the Woodcutter

I offered you sanctuary with one condition.
Even this much you could not hold.When you looked into the forbidden chamber
my three daughters became birds
and flew away from me forever.

Memory of our transgressions is a stone. It lies
on the seabed of our deepest forgetting.

—regret and sorrow in the making

Before you came I swept this house daily
with a long broom of rice straw.

Often I would wander from room to room,
touching each treasure as I passed:

a golden screen, three red lacquer bowls—
Now, all is dust suspended in late sunlight.

This forest house, with its paper doors and secrets,
is too large for me now. Let it dissolve in mist
and absence, no trace left for the lost children.

What am I but the flower of your deepest self?

—crushed chrysanthemum petals underfoot

Instead, I am cast out across vast distances,
circling far above the trees, never to be human.

You will say that a grand house once stood
in a forest clearing. Then: nothing but birdcalls.

Longing itself is nothing but the heart’s open spaces.

—regret and sorrow, come calling

If I could make it so, I would be the one left alone
in the meadow, rubbing my eyes and wondering.

Remember this: I, once a woman, took you in,
an exchange for a promise kept.

Three maidens startled, then transformed into birds.

Whatever you abandon returns in your dreams.

Mari L’Esperance is a graduate of New York University’s creative writing program, where she was a New York Times Company Foundation Creative Writing Fellow. L’Esperance’s poems have appeared in Pequod, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Barnabe Mountain Review, Salamander, and several other periodicals and an anthology. A chapbook manuscript, Begin Here, was awarded first prize in the 1999 Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press national chapbook competition and was published in 2000. In 2002 L’Esperance received a Pushcart Prize nomination for her poem “Pantoum of the Blind Cambodian Women”, which was published in The Worcester Review. L’Esperance has been awarded residency grants from Dorland Mountain Arts Colony and Hedgebrook. She has taught creative writing at NYU, Merritt College in Oakland, California, and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. She is currently training to be a psychotherapist and lives in Oakland.

L’Esperance, who is of Japanese and French Canadian-American descent, was born in Kobe, Japan and raised in southern California, Micronesia, and Japan.


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