Peter Streckfus (b. 1969, San Antonio, Texas), a former instructor for the blind, organic farm laborer, and visual arts writer and publicist, is the author of The Cuckoo, selected by Louise Glück in 2003 for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, his poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Phoebe, Pleiades, PRACTICE, Slope, and elsewhere. He earned an MFA degree in poetry from George Mason University in 2000 and is on the poetry faculty of the low-residency MFA in professional writing program at Western Connecticut State University.


The Cuckoo at Yale University Press

3 Poems by Peter Streckfus

After Words

Here is a wall. The strange empty space above the wall... what is it for? Here, a little boat, a canopy of silver plastic rattling above it.

Listen to the babe-scare cry of the wind. You are in the unsteady boat and this poem is a lake.

It's too late now. You are in the boat my little skipperoo, my kitzie koodle. Look. In the other boat, your son. All the rest, the other sons, the boy you blinded and the daughter you maimed, the weapons and the armor, is film, a thin and punctured membrane, a fictitious hymen.

There's no place for that weapon here. Come on now, you have no choice. Trust me.

I'll speak nonsense. You speak truth. We'll see what comes of it.

The Pirates (An Introduction)

The author of this text has two bodies, contiguous biologically and historically, perhaps even spiritually, a metonymy of himself, his own son, his own father. He is his elder by 48 years. He is Robert and Peter Streckfus. He was born in 1921, authored his first novel manuscript in 1954 under the title Two Golden Earrings, fathered himself in 1969, and in 2005 smuggled language from his first manuscript into The Pirates, pages of which, imagine, you now hold.

       As a child of nine, Peter saw Robert revising Two Golden Earrings and decided to be an author. He took paper and pencil to the playhouse and composed the following sentences:

Today I am in my office. My desk is where I write. I am a writer.
[Displayed in a child’s handwriting]

Peter assumed his father’s mantel at this moment, though Robert had hardly given it. To what degree did the author of the child’s sentences above represent Peter and to what degree did he represent Robert?

       From here the history of that author might have gone any "where". In 1983 Peter entered the last American high school in which Robert taught as a Marianist brother before leaving for Peru in 1952; thus Peter and his siblings first learned Robert’s religious identity. In that school, Peter studied writing with a former colleague and schoolmate of Robert’s, Bro. Martin McMurtrey, SM. But these occurrences are impertinent. Today this author assumes the form of two selves who cancel each other out. Who efface and erase each other in this text. Who overwrite one another. Loving one another and repelled by one another. Standing in for each other. Two bodies, two signs, for one voice. Plato argues that such a voice, because it can exist as two, exist unchanging, is a dead voice.

The Pirates:
Idiot Big Mouth Leads Us to a Gathering of Birds

We shall tell you more about us. On entering the forest, we found dear Idiot tied to a tree, screaming continuously because of the pain, and above his voice, we heard a party not far away. A gathering of birds, dancing and playing, and you, I’m Cold Monkey, on your hands and feet, capered like a white tailed deer among them, while we, Storyteller, Witness, Big Mouth and Reader, hid in a foliage of trees, words, and grass. The bird we had seen before, which we agreed that evening to name The Butcher Bird and the Mocking Bird, each black feather on its body, each curl of hair on its head, a small tear, took the role of a human man, its pants partly undone, exposing the skin of its lower abdomen, and with you, Monkey, it began its play. You in its wings, the two of you pretended to couple. It thrust at your stomach – instead of between your legs; why, we don’t know – hard, then more violently, and then it pretended to come. The other birds chattered and whirred, “marvelous Earth and Water!”

       We turned from this mockery of our sex.

       In the heat of the day, The Butcher Bird and the Mocking Bird occupied a locust tree with its immediate kin, often, for some unknown reason, in a pack of four. We called on it at this tree and requested a tour of the compound to which it graciously agreed. In the garden, it showed us two trees, one that would bear fruit soon; “Lemon trees,” it said. We each found in the daylight its tears of bird raiment physically disturbing but contained ourselves. “Yes, this one has fruit,” said The Storyteller, who looked above and discerned a fruit the color and texture of a lemon. We then noticed in the branches more such fruit, elongated and yellow, shaped almost as if each held inside it a human form, some as full as grown persons. At this point, Witness had already climbed into the tree. And so we give you his account:

Finding an easier route, Storyteller followed me.
Expertly and violently I threw her to the ground
And climbed further, about to throw out The Butcher and the
Mocking Bird. But fearing I might crush its delicate tears
I climbed another branch, and the bird began to pull me
Down. “Don’t,” I cried, “I don’t want to fall!” I achieved
A higher perch—and then looked down. I was so high, incredibly
High. Neither bird nor tree, I was afraid.

       Meanwhile, Storyteller brushed herself off, sat down and composed the following verse:

Morning on the fig tree and the resident
garden. With his attendant in attendance,
my old man, our pilgrim.