These Birds For Example

Art by James Aldridge

Jennifer Finstrom

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary

     “The birds flock to her, green-black crests
     and useless claws.”
          –Elizabeth Kerper, “Magritte Explains Ornithology”
The week after you download a dating app, 
you give a man your full name when
he asks to read some of your work, telling
him that he can google you. And he
does, messaging back moments
later the unexpected takeaway 
that you “are fascinated by birds.” 
Since most of your poems that have 
recently appeared online are nominally 
about your divorce, you wonder 
if he’s read the one that quotes Jane Eyre’s 
“I am no bird,” but it turns out he’s 
found “Cold Walk with Crows,” a poem 
you wrote almost twenty years ago.
You’ve almost forgotten this poem
but are glad to remember again that
walk near your apartment in West Allis,
WI where the shadow of a crow 
intersected with your own shadow 
on the sidewalk, and your head appeared, 
Hermes-like, to wear a wingéd helmet. 

Years after that walk, there is a Magritte
exhibit at the Art Institute, and one painting,
Young Girl Eating a Bird (The pleasure),
has always remained with you.

There is blood on the girl’s white collar
and mouth, but she doesn’t seem happy about
what she is doing. This sense of being compelled
is something you are coming to understand,
this need to swallow whole the feathers, the bones,
to still the beating heart, this need 
to consume both with and without desire.

Elizabeth Kerper

Magritte Explains Ornithology

After the paintings “Young Girl Eating a Bird (Pleasure)” and “The Healer”

The man with the birdcage body and the girl
who eats birds were childhood friends. They
grew up together, they remember when she
could still be satisfied gnawing on gristle 
and molted tail feathers, remember the games of tag 
when his iron-barred torso left broken stripes of rust
on her palms. They remember the night when two doves
first made his chest an aviary, how she took one fast step
toward him. Now they are older, she stands very still
among the trees, the birds flock to her, green-black crests
and useless claws, there is blood on her fingertips and her white
lace collar. The man will not go in the woods anymore,
but still he leaves the door to his ribcage open.

[first published in NEAT]

Keith Taylor 

Why I Try to Name the Things I See

That I can say “thrush”
rather than “bird”
and “Swainson’s Thrush”
rather than “thrush”

honors not Swainson
whoever he was –
possibly an estimable man –
but that particular bird

that particular thrush
who will live its life
out here at the end
of a lonely peninsula

on an island in a cold lake
and then migrate far away
not once caring about my honor
or what name I give it.

[from Let Them Be Left (Alice Greene & Company, 2021)]

Charles Rafferty

Mutations and Duplications

These birds for example. So many songs and so few nests — they won’t make sense until I find out where they came from. Isn’t that always the case? Vestigial fingers show up inside the flipper of the whale, and “avocado” derives from the Aztec word for “testicle.” Way leads on to way. I could trace myself back to an Irish king and still I’d have no idea. All the while, the swans are duplicating their grace in the waters of our lagoon.

[forthcoming in A Cluster of Noisy Planets, BOA Editions, 2021]

Birds of a Feather at EIL

These Birds, Too, for Example

Rene Magritte, Young Girl Eating a Bird (Pleasure)

Rene Magritte, The Healer


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