Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mallards Taking the Sun this Morning

These green feathers shine and shine! Observe the curly tail feathers
which only male mallards wear. You can sometimes see hybrids
and know that they have some mallard background if you see these curls!
The necks are quite adjustable in length, too. This fellow raised his head
this morning to look around, while she rested more quietly.

Life List

Blear-eyed and solitary
I study the lake at dawn.
Binoculars and a black
notebook keep me company
in this dry blind, but nothing
stirs marsh reeds
or disturbs the gray air.
My tenth winter of willing
indenture to this listing,
I scan the ragged treeline 
and recall magpies pecking
litter from ash, a maverick
bunting fencing with his
image in a garden mirror or
the osprey's nest with its
cracked bough ready for
collapse. So many entries,
vigils, pretenses--I become
fir, or a barkless snag, 
an odd rock under goshawk
circles--anything to help 
me  blend in and eavesdrop,
any camoflage for my sly
voyeur's form. From habit
and instinct I follow my
field guide's advice on
habitat and music to catch
another bird's name, to
cage him on lined paper,
add a date beside cactus
wren, swamp sparrow, Bell's 
vireo with a red berry,
a wet gnatcatcher perched 
on the bent yellow limb.
Once a fishing spoonbill
spread roseate wings like
Victory, and I mis-stepped
and fell into a ditch. Once
a mockingbird pecked my head.
Wood duck, Sabine gull on
driftwood, a male kittiwake
soaring, or the anhinga with 
a meter wingspan--all have 
appeared beside thin birches
bright as birdsong or under
opalescent clouds. Each bird
gave evidence of such zest
and the pleasure of flight
I am drawn back to forest
and water for more sustenance.
Crouching now, I can taste
bacon grease and yearning
while a ruddy duck approaches,
then follows another cove,
awakening my old envy of all
grace and dazzle these beasts
harbor in their hollow bones,
lightness of mantle and scapular,
instinct's swift rituals,
and I am drifting myself, half
dreaming when the duck darts
to bare timbers shovering
in mist. Then his soft wings
oar the air, and I raise
the Zeiss to catch in round
lenses the low dip and levitation,
the sudden star of his wild
and transforming eye.

R. T. Smith

Hunter-Gatherer; poems by R. T. Smith, 
Livingston Press, 1996, pages 9-10.

There is a great deal of information from many different birding outings in this poem. It convinces me that the poet has really done some serious birding. One of the main things I noticed while typing it (I usually say it aloud, line by line, as I type) is the rhythm, which is quite strong and sometimes almost independent of the line. It is a much more "poetical" sort of poem than I had at first suspected.
Read it aloud.

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