Bird Studies Human Studies Bird
"Birds don't sing, they explain. Only people sing."
Mary Smith sings about how birds can punish us,
studies any in the context of diversion or patterns.
Birds that count are not really the ones inside humans'
heads. Mary Smith, however, is good at imagining
horribly uncommon woodpeckers, supposedly
extinct. If, in either case, dodo or ivory-billed
woodpecker, Mary Smith persists, what happens? At
first she may associate being in a city or in the yard
of a suburban house with being a common sparrow. She may,
in terms of the song in her mind sing to find nuthatch,
drawing sparrows out of the ginkgo, cardinals
aghast at her vibrato. Maybe she sees all birds
as basically the same type of bird, so the dodo
who never appears is as good as an absent robin.
You, on the other hand, have a set of elements
associated with Mary Smith in your head. Yet,
are you little and brown? Do you have a red breast?
Do worms dangle from your beak? Are you the
idea attractor of what is to be a robin? Or are you
a dodo trying to pass as normal? Do you gravitate
toward birds with social practices that push you away?
Do you chirp an explanation of why this branch,
why this final refusal to come back even as
idea, why you try to fit into patterns only
humans are part of? Even clouds in terms of song
are not songs but explanations formed long ago,
lines of thought that covered every path. Looped around,
cumulus bore down on grackle, squall line
mapping turkey before that animal was, before Start
of Our World. If you want to sing, don't be a robin. If you
want to explain the robins you have to admit
the patterns in your head about robins are wrong.
If you want to join the dodos you have to find one.
* * *
Cynthia Arrieu-King is the author of The Small Anything City (Dream Horse Press) and People are Tiny in Paintings of China (forthcoming, Octopus Books). No Tell Motel first published this poem in February 2006. Cynthia wrote, "I was reading James Paul Gee's, What Video Games Have to Teach us About Literacy and Learning. The book yields rich pedagogical lessons from a comparison between the landscapes of multi-player video games and composition classrooms. I was reading along merrily one night, when suddenly, Gee started analyzing the social matrix of birds, dodos, and the sentence "If, in either case, dodo or ivory-billed woodpecker, Mary Smith persists, what happens?" got stuck in my craw."