Study: Tree Creeper, 1899

“[Dr. Edward] Wilson …didn’t make it back from the 1910-13 Terra Nova Expedition. …The curious 1899 date on the painting may indicate that Wilson painted it years before, when he was recovering from tuberculosis in Europe, although the mystery of why he brought it to the isolated hut remains.”

Hooked bill narrower than the nose
of a boat, stiffened claw held

as if over the keys of an invisible
piano— I can understand why

he might have taken such a thing
with him to that icy wilderness,

this likeness of a dun bird
that once crept to forage along

the bark of trees. What did he hear
when the wind lashed across the open

face of those desolate plains?
The bird, being dead, could grip

no more than air that rendered all
dust, all trace of feathers, to clear

fossil. The bird, being dead, could not
have modeled the spasm of surrender,

that moment of the soul’s passing from one
spiraling end of the helix to the last.

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