“The Addiction Bird” by Agnes Hanying Ong

Shadowland by Arthur Lawrence, painting of shadowy bird-like figures flying toward a mountain or volcano

Image: “Shadowland” by Arthur Lawrence. “The Addiction Bird” was written by Agnes Hanying Ong for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2023, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Agnes Hanying Ong


In a dream
someone calling your name
from a far sea. A sign
from Allah. Says the book
of which, oriole, people.
To Allah, I pray everyday
that you will find the way and live
a life without the drink. It is
the only speaker of an
anguish, anguish of
idyllic geese. How do birds say good
bye to their chicks? When
the black birds came, they wore
colors of a rainbow and
the colors fell off on
everything. Live like a bird I keep
having this dream of
school shooting, no, it takes
place in a drugstore, where
the usual girl, who is there, says
Look, look, that guy is
coming. Do you hear gunshots. What’s
that? Flickering in the distance?
Wait, that’s gunfire. Okay, so
what now? Are we supposed to
run out? He is outside. So
should we run in? In this literal
drugstore rimmed with aisles
of bottles to be
walking, where you
might think this is holy
temple of genies, we are
running past: genies or, jinn
or jaan, sentenced
to life as numerous
drinks in bottles all full, same
place where I once witnessed a
bird die, having flown
into glass, less than a minute
ago. Here, we arrive at: an empty
room, which has a lock, on the
metal door. So we ought to
be safe here. Just lock the door, lock
the door. I lock the door, realizing
there is another room inside this room
which has no windows. The room is
walled with just cold, concrete
surprising in this town, like it is a miniature
medieval castle. It is like, nightly, we can
warm our hands here, stay low and close
to the ground, while setting a pile of
silverfish on fire and say: This is living. This is
peace, this is close, as close as,
as close as to
Allah any
one can ever be. Bullets of stale
-hard bread thrown upon window—
windowless, this is bird
on sugar water, this is twilight
dimmed in a flapping of wings, this is
bird scrambling for life, this is
Across swifts in the sky,
what kind of bird do you take us

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Arthur Lawrence: “This poem is chock-full of poetic imagery and delightful word play like ‘the usual girl, genies or, jinn or jann.’ The line spacing is purposeful and not stressed. The painting that I provided is somewhat nightmarish and surrealistic, qualities this poem elicits. The poem begs the question, what are we addicted to … guns, war, drugs, mindless violence, mindless adherence to doctrine? From the war in Gaza to the war in our schools, and on our streets, this is the nightmare our children and grandchildren live with every day. Just ask the young and they will tell you that you are too old to understand.”

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