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The Trick with the Stick

Read by Jessy Randall

— Flatey, Iceland

Remember that twisty gravel two-track 
that crunched under our boots, from hopping off 

the jetty to slouching into town? No, not even
a town. A clutch of green and pale blue

houses and a church. There's always a church. 
And I was saying, "Lily, have you ever —" 

but then a raspy 
                                                   and then a "what 
           the shit!" 
                              and then 
a needley flash 
                                          of black and 

                    white zizzed right 

into my head —
                              Arctic terns

will divebomb anything that stumbles 
too close, so we must've tramped right by

oblivious to the speckly eggs plopped down 
in grassy dimples you can only see

if you're looking. Well, now we're looking. 
"The trick," the old priest smiled, "is to carry 

a big stick. Not to swing, but whatever 
comes near, terns will zero in and spike 

the top of it. So a stick held high could save 
your scalp." Which would've been good to know

ten minutes ago. Stickless, we ducked
into church to see the murals a wandering Catalan 

painted back in '65, in trade for a pew 
to sleep on and three squares a day. 

Baltazar knew what he was doing, alright. 
He ate well all summer. I forgot my bleeding head

when I saw his blond Christ in a snowflake
covered sweater, not flanked by thieves 

but arm-in-arm with a pair of sheep farmers —
actual locals, twin bachelors who'd only

recently died, the priest confided (handing me
a bandage), quite happily in their sleep.
Matthew Thorburn is the author of Subject to Change (New Issues, 2004) and a chapbook, the long poem Disappears in the Rain (Broome Review, forthcoming 2009). He lives and works in New York City.