“Two-Headed Nightingale” by Shara Lessley

Two-Headed Nightingale
Illustration by Morgan Maurer, 2011

Christine & Millie McCoy, 1851-1912

tear open the breast                        and heart to tell
biological truth: no:                         the black, deformed
birth: yes: slavery                             of the interior

unlock the shackled                          spine to show
in sixty-one years monstrosity: yes:
she never left my side the fusion of vertebrae

the malformation                              of blood and bone
collision? no                                   our walk, a side-step
the backbone braided                        dance: a waltz

born 1851                                       as slaves: the body
twice betrayed: the sky                    held the sun: no, moon
“MOON AND SUN                              UNITED ON STAGE”

illusion? no: miracle:                           the sisters
merged, their voices                         layered like the nightingale’s
sheath of feathers,                            light hitting its wings

breaking up light –                            negress? no: they are
crimson blazing,                                their song quick and agile
as their hearts’ pumping:                      yes: one beat:

one pulse: one soul, two                   thoughts, from darkness,
a final note                                         dividing the air: the sudden outward
breath rushing to fill                            the other’s departure



Shara Lessley is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry. Her awards include an O’Connor Fellowship from Colgate University, the Gilman School’s Tickner Fellowship, the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and a “Discovery”/The Nation Prize. Shara’s writing has appeared in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, Threepenny, Black Warrior Review, The Southern Review and Alaska Quarterly Review, among others. She was the recipient a 2009-2010 Artists’ Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council, and currently lives in Amman, Jordan. “Two-Headed Nightingale” first appeared in the journal Gulf Coast.

Read an interview with Shara here.