Instructions For The Bandit

Matthew Wimberley


Now that I’ve lived as a thief

I come to the edge

of a mill pond—the pines

upright on the far shore,

an egret

skimming the surface.


To notice every detail

your father must become

the scrape of ink on white paper

—only words—blue and cold to touch.

You must sell his wedding bands

at a pawn shop

where the man behind the counter

is too tired to look up. He’s balding

and the shirt button

just below his neck

pops off, and spins on the counter

like a pinwheel in front of you,

the baseball cards and photographs


no one wants to buy

dim lit and silent. See how they cast

no shadow behind them

regardless of the flickering bulb

tucked into the case.

There’s an ashtray

with a bowler figurine

in the center, and a coin pouch

with the face of an Indian

and Las Vegas sewn

into the fabric. His five feathers

arc down his back—

a moon phase viewed through

a telescope. But

it is just thread, a souvenir.

While the cashier calculates

the price, wonder


if the bands will be melted

to make a chain

or cast in the shape of a bird, or

if they’ll be sold as they are

and later, buried with someone

you won’t know.

Think how long a ring can be worn

before the skin

is undone

and flesh worried

from bone—the dark

slipping it off

and the sound metal makes

landing on the casket bed

something no one will ever hear.


And you have to take the money,

make small talk, smell

his sweat—the way it shades

the shirt under his arms

spread like a coastline

at low tide.

There is the wish to reach

across the glass

and grab one of the rings,

turn and run.

But you take your hand back,

walk out the door.

I would like to remember


heat rising off asphalt

after rain, the humid air

and strip of buildings in a town

no one told you about

until now. You’ll touch

your front pocket, feel

the shirt button hidden away.

Don’t make it sacred.

Be still. Hold your hand

over your heart.

first draft //  Black Crane

I know the hollow thrum turkey bones make

as they’re snapped. The split and ache— like the first step onto a rain-slick bridge

the smoothness of the pine and the nail-heads sunk into the grain

as to bow further into rust. I would like to go back beyond the first timber cut

into planks, the oblique triangles, the trusses set into position, and walk

through the short decades of my life


as they fall away with the ease of a turkey’s tail feather—

one I found in a gutter, overgrown with mosses and wet leaves,

mistaking it to be a hawk’s something dangerous, I carried it in my fist

and placed it beside my bed. Now that I’ve lived as a thief

I would like to remember the before—

the cold furnace of my mother’s stomach and the vein of light, the outside


charmed into her with a trained blade, dawn shackled to a coastline

and my skin, one time crystalline—the infrared pulse of my heart

returning blood and manna  beating now in the dark mine

of my body, carved from a body. This is so fantastic to imagine: her

holding me to her breast as though I were a rumor, able to be carried off

in the wind like the florets of a dandelion. Or, I would like to remember my father


hunched into myself catching breath at the top of the stairs after working the auto auctions in Fredericksburg and returning to Richmond, to hillsides of Confederate dead, their flesh and bones returned to the earth, the rows of broad oaks

once bent slightly to thunder and gun powder are sullen now—and his breath,

if it rose, did not go toward starlight but into eyelashes and hair

so for the rest of my life he wore a crown  of smoke, the dark swirl of it like black cranes


rising from a lake into hesitant daylight.



Matthew's Commentary

"Instructions for the Bandit" is maybe the tenth or so draft of "Black Cranes", which I was really happy with as a first draft, but came back to and felt weary of many of the lines. One that stuck out "Now that I've lived as a thief" kept echoing and eventually the image of the crane led to an egret and then the image of my father, living, really seemed to be speaking. I kept asking "Well, how is the speaker a thief?" That thought really guided the revision process. Also, through revision I found the self more interested in the choices made without the consent of the dead, and how hard they are (like selling the wedding bands). I think "Instructions for the Bandit" was hiding there in "Black Crane" but I had to get away from the more fantastical lines and root them in the real. Early drafts are always an opportunity for experimentation but I kept being drawn to different images which meant more than the ideas of "Black Crane". Also, I think I like getting away with a kind of sentimentality with the last lines in the later poem, even if no one else thinks so. Now, looking back at "Black Crane" I think there are definitely lines I wills save for later, I just wrote them down in my notebook before writing all of this.

Matthew Wimberley is a Starworks Fellow and MFA candidate at New York University. A finalist for the 2012 Narrative 30 Below Contest, and the 2013 Organic Weapon Arts David Blair Memorial Chapbook Prize, his writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, The Greensboro Review, Puerto Del Sol, The Paris-American and Connotation Press, where his poems were introduced by Dorianne Laux. Wimberley grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his two dogs and spent March and April of 2012 driving across the country. A Localist poet, he currently resides in Brooklyn where he is completing his first book-length manuscript All the Great Territories.