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.
Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) grew up in Nigeria, went to school in New Orleans, and currently lives in Missouri. She serves on the editorial teams of Praxis Magazine Online (Nigeria) and Right Hand Pointing (USA). Her most recent poetry collection is Anchorhold, and The Heretic’s Hymnal: 99 New and Selected Poems, is forthcoming from Babylon Books / Balkan Press in 2018. More about her poetry is available at arkofidentity.wordpress.com.