Morning Menagerie

Sitting still enough that the mosquitoes cannot see me,
I watch dark birds commuting to the shore.
Consoled by Feynman’s father as to bird names,
I dub their species Mini-Nevermore
and think, had I the Latin and were first,
there would be many mini-nevermores in books.
The more I see of them, the more like jackdaws
my mini-nevermores appear, or rooks.
Ignored by bird and bug, I cogitate
which species I address compiling stats,
suspecting it’s the one that cannot fly
but does name dogs not knowing names of cats.

Consoled by Feynman’s father as to bird names alludes to my favourite Richard Feynman story, as he told it:
‘The next Monday, when the fathers were all back at work, we kids were playing in a field. One kid says to me, “See that bird? What kind of bird is that?” I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you anything!” But it was the opposite. He had already taught me: “See that bird?” he says. “It’s a Spencer’s warbler.” (I knew he didn’t know the real name.) “Well, in Italian, it’s a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it’s a Bom da Peida. In Chinese, it’s a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts.” (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.)’

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