The Ornithological Section

by Michael Longley

Michael Longley

Birds, such heavenly bric-a-brac
Without their guts, without their fears,
Despite the vital parts they lack
Have here maintained their proper cloth,
Have held their equilibrium
So perfectly, so many years,
Shed nothing but momentum,
Their only weather dust and moth.

Toward what feats and feasts they steer,
Toward what continents migrate,
Or simply why they disappear,
With feathers talons beaks and plumes
Kingfisher destrel dodo swan
In life, in death can illustrate,
For ornithology keep on
Their uniforms, their best costumes.

In this unnatural treasury,
Though held thus by their own decors
And fixed in frozen augury,
Out of the past they dart and wade,
In such different skies to figure,
On so many half-remembered shores,
And are heading for the future,
By some deep need of ours conveyed.

Who quit their gay trajectories
Too suddenly, too long ago,
True to their movements, even these
Across our field of vision spill
And, while winging it through fable,
Fuse all we hope with what we know -
Their fate incontrovertible,
Their vanished bodies flying still.

We, with our histories left to spend,
Would have our actions thus defined
By that repose in which they end,
Would have these birds, these lively dead,
Who hesitate before they go
For ever out of sight and mind,
Whose long delays concern us so,
As our biographers instead.

We come as ornithologists -
As taxidermists we depart,
For here an urge we have persists
To recognize the tattered skins,
The bones come in at last to land
Of birds, entitled from the start,
Who take their places, make their stand
Where science ends and love begins.

Last updated July 30, 2022