Portrait of Birds in Winter

there’s the mechanical whirr of the ward door // locking behind the night shift phlebotomist // who stops by the nurses’ station & says something to wendy with the cloudy eye // she giggles & puts her hand on his forearm // he gets to my room & leaves the specimen cart in the hall // don’t worry chickadee he says pushing the door closed // i got the butterfly needle ready today // i take off my shirt // the bruises on my arms recoil in the muted light // damn he says that’s not gonna work // & ties the tourniquet around my wrist // slaps the top of my hand // swabs it with an alcohol pad // & pricks

i slink back to bed // & from an envelope i keep in the mattress i pour out my hoard of pills // they huddle on the blanket like starlings on a power line // i organize them first by shape // then by color // each one ogles me // but none will warble me advice

sometimes i group the pills into families // & arrange them like a decorative christmas village // the luvoxes live on top of my contact case // they have four robust american children // which is perfect // considering the lithiums also have four babies // the seroquels live on the outskirts of town // underneath a miniature book called scripture for the healing // there’s only two // & they keep to themselves // i heard from one of the luvox kids // on quiet nights you can hear them // round & pink & screaming

a visitor comes // for the man in the next room // he brings back a personal pizza from the hospital domino’s // & opens the box carefully // like inside there’s a magic dove who might escape // there’s an excess of sauce // & the pepperonis watch me accusingly // i snag one // & suck off the grease

some days there are needles some days rubber-padded socks some days i pull out the pilfered pepperoni & balance it on my forehead like a precarious third eye sometimes there’s too much blood or sometimes not enough some days i eat saltines some days i crush lightbulbs with my tongue sometimes i choke on pills sometimes cock i think sometimes i fuck the guy next door sometimes i fuck the phlebotomist sometimes i don’t fuck at all some days i sing to the crows outside but sometimes i don’t see the point




sally burnette is the author of two forthcoming chapbooks, Special Ultimate: Baby’s Story: a Documentary (Ghost City Press, 2018) and laughing plastic (Broken Sleep Books, 2018). They are originally from North Carolina but currently live in Boston, where they teach in Emerson College’s First-Year Writing Program and read flash fiction for Split Lip MagazineVisit their website and/or Twitter.




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