Birds

I know I don’t blog about birds as often as I should, but hey, it’s not like birds aren’t getting their due in the blogosphere.

for Dave and Mark Bonta

This cold ache, this longing
to belong — orangutans have
already begun to step into
our filthy shoes, have bred
until their habitat is stressed;
recently, two of them turned
against another, ganged up

and beat and killed her, our
first occasion of witnessing
their females commit murder,
so now we aren’t unique in
this respect, the earth does
not need us to manifest this
option, does not need us as

a repository for the bloody-
minded string of X-genes. Our
services may no longer be
required. This cold ache, this
longing to belong — and now,
your brother and another well-
versed in Australian aboriginal
territory and ceremony have

unraveled the old Prometheus
myth — we’d thought that fire
was ours uniquely, a secret
cleverly hidden in a stalk of
fennel, stolen from the gods.
But fifteen observations of
brown falcons and black kites

lifting and relocating burning
twigs of brush to other places
to smoke out their prey —
and this behavior may well
predate our own successes
with such flames, our own
discovery of the handiness

of lightning strikes, the trial
and errors with which we
learned to wrap the embers
from a smoldering tree up in
shag-bark and green leaves,
carry them to where they’d
be useful in preparing food.

So we are not unique in this
thing either, and may not have
even been the first; the gods
from which we stole that fire
may well have been birds;
clearly, the earth does not
need us to manifest this option,

does not need our bodies to
preserve the DNA of pyro-
mania. Our services may no
longer be required. This cold
ache, this longing to belong —
and now —


Inspired by/in response to “February idyll” by Dave Bonta, and two articles: “The Dark Side of the Red Ape” and “Crafty Australian birds may be resorting to arson to smoke out their prey.”

Audubon's full-color print of pileated woodpeckers paired with a poem by Luisa A. Igloria on a large mug (left side)

In commemoration of Luisa A. Igloria’s first five years of writing a poem a day at Via Negativa, this mug pairs her first poem in the series, about a pileated woodpecker, with John James Audubon’s print of pileateds from Birds of North America. This is the 15-oz. mug from CafePress, ideal for any hot beverage on a cold winter’s morning. Originally made as a one-off gift for Luisa on reaching her five-year milestone, I thought I might as well add it to Via Negativa’s CafePress store. I’ve kept the mark-up as low as possible; I just wanted to provide Luisa A. Igloria fans, John James Audubon fans, or anyone who might be looking for a stylish mug the opportunity to buy it. Click here to order.

Audubon's full-color print of pileated woodpeckers paired with a poem by Luisa A. Igloria on a large mug (right side)

To my office for 20l. to carry to Mr. Downing, which I did and back again. Then came Mr. Frost to pay Mr. Downing his 500l., and I went to him for the warrant and brought it Mr. Frost. Called for some papers at Whitehall for Mr. Downing, one of which was an Order of the Council for 1800l. per annum, to be paid monthly; and the other two, Orders to the Commissioners of Customs, to let his goods pass free. Home from my office to my Lord’s lodgings where my wife had got ready a very fine dinner — viz. a dish of marrow bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl, three pullets, and two dozen of larks all in a dish; a great tart, a neat’s tongue, a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns and cheese.
My company was my father, my uncle Fenner, his two sons, Mr. Pierce, and all their wives, and my brother Tom. We were as merry as I could frame myself to be in the company, W. Joyce talking after the old rate and drinking hard, vexed his father and mother and wife. And I did perceive that Mrs. Pierce her coming so gallant, that it put the two young women quite out of courage. When it became dark they all went away but Mr. Pierce, and W. Joyce, and their wives and Tom, and drank a bottle of wine afterwards, so that Will did heartily vex his father and mother by staying. At which I and my wife were much pleased. Then they all went and I fell to writing of two characters for Mr. Downing, and carried them to him at nine o’clock at night, and he did not like them but corrected them, so that to-morrow I am to do them anew.
To my Lord’s lodging again and sat by the great log, it being now a very good fire, with my wife, and ate a bit and so home.
The news this day is a letter that speaks absolutely Monk’s concurrence with this Parliament, and nothing else, which yet I hardly believe.
After dinner to-day my father showed me a letter from my Uncle Robert, in answer to my last, concerning my money which I would have out of my Coz. Beck’s hand, wherein Beck desires it four months longer, which I know not how to spare.

in the customs of larks
joy is all the rage

they pierce the heart
afire with a news in which
I hardly believe


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 January 1659/60. (See the original erasure.)

Black mustaches, black cravats,
suits patterned after leopard-skin
and lined in golden silk. When
the Northern flickers fledge, they
dress in flashy uniforms, band
performance and they all play
drums, take deep-sweep bows
mid-flight, shout wacka-wacka!

The pileated’s a traditionalist,
still wears a scarlet cap with
matching chin-strap, formal
suit in black with gleaming white
lapels. Grand and grandiose,
but filled with noblesse oblige,
he leaves his older dwelling to be
leased by lady wood duck, she
needs the lofty safety to incubate
her clutch, but doesn’t have
the beak for excavation.

She has a yellow-bellied neighbor,
but he rarely disturbs her with his
intermittent mews. His work’s
sporadic, an arrhythmia induced
by breaks for sips, he’s always
in his cups, so much he wears a bib —
and also a red cap, but beyond
that, he doesn’t match: checked
coat atop a khaki-yellow shirt.

For fashion trends, you have
to look to red-heads — him or her,
they are identical in style, same
haut designer fond of high-gloss
color-block. Or, for a bit of modern
flare that’s such a daring statement
it’s hard to tell if it is fashion or
rebellion: check out the red-bellied,
rose tattoo bare beneath slick
zebra jacket, Manic Panic hair.

And finally, there’s those cousins —
brothers? — Hairy, Downy, not so
flashy, not quite twins. Hard to tell
who’s who among them, they have
costumed up, them and their ladies,
as Pierrot and Pirouette, the men show
but a single patch of red upon their
heads, and even that is in the back:
if you should surprise one playing
the catalpa, it will turn to face you,
freeze — and if you blink, without that
red as evidence of its existence, it
blends in and vanishes completely.

All you have left is speculation as
to if it’s gone or present. Just like
the legendary uncle of his pileated
nibs, the ivory-billed enigma, holy
grail of ornithology, rumored, sought,
and sightings not believed. But still
remains the inconclusiveness,
the hope, the lurking question:

Is absence of evidence
evidence of absence?


In response to, and ending with a line from, The Morning Porch.

mitrewort

Every time I go outside to look at the moon, I hear a ghostly twittering in the treetops. Birds, or flying squirrels? I shine a flashlight all around, but don’t catch a reflection from any mammalian eyes. I switch it off. My brother’s silver truck glows like the belly of a fish.

When I wake up in the wee hours, the catbird is singing voluably, lustily — as if it were broad daylight. Mockingbirds do this too, I know, but catbirds? Perhaps this one has a bit of actual cat in him. I shut the window and put my earplugs in.

In the morning, the new leaves on the trees seem twice as large as they did yesterday. But why shouldn’t they? Given how warm it was last night, they surely didn’t stop growing just because the sun went down.

Could it be that the catbird’s singing is somehow necessary to the growth of the leaves — that he sings them into being? I play with this idea just long enough for it to pass from absurdity into possibility.

But to listen to a catbird — or one of its cousins, the brown thrasher or the mockingbird — is to realize that spring itself is fundamentally improvisational. The trees, too, are making it up as they go along.

tulip trees with new leaves