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.)’
The drink that once went to his head
now stays pooled in his liver instead
which explains right away
why he lies night and day
at age forty confined to his bed.
‘It’s too early,’ says the jackdaw. ‘I’m not an owl 🦉’
He speaks on our private channel. ‘It’s the hour,’
he adds, ‘for roosting. Down there stray cats 🐱 yowl.
With my flock I’m safe here in the Great Church tower
and I plan to stay that way. No need to fly afoul
of whatever waits in darkness to devour
us avians who are taught to do what’s right.
Goodnight again. I’ll call you at first light.’
The poor people sleep for hours in the rain.
Why? Because they are homeless, and it is raining.
To the senators in the gold towers, it seems plain
That, since the poor’s sleeping takes less energy than complaining,
they can say that the poor are lazy, to explain
why they, the senators, are right remaining
high, and dry, and feted all the more
while the sleeping people slide towards Death’s cold door.
The skunks fill jungle glade. ‘This is so wrong,’
says the hawk that moved here when Alabama burned.
‘This should be a coniferous forest, not a jungle.
There should not be more skunks than one an acre.’
The owl in the next tree over gives a hoot.
‘Watch the pythons,’ she says. Both the raptors do.
How the book ends
attracts me more
than what might be between them.
I don’t look.
How the book ends
is a mystery
that I cherish:
the mystery of not knowing
how things end.
We pay for, with experience and whiskey,
the values of the stories we are told.
We rehearse until our hearses makes us wise to
the lies, but by then we are old.
We drink up at Fountain Forgetful
till our names appear strange on the wall
that we erected with promise and vigour
as we witlessly played through the Fall.