Adam Reads The Guide to Western Birds


From the Archive


Patty Seyburn’s poem “Adam Reads The Guide to Western Birds” appeared in our Fall 2001 issueHer latest collection is Hilarity

… let fowl fly above the earth in the
open firmament of heaven.
Genesis 1:20

This book is bliss.
It includes a bird’s topography—
(who knew that fowl had eyebrows? superciliaries)
a wrist, a rump, a nape.
Once again I’m caught assuming
human privilege, as if only our parts merit names.
We are mere givers of names.
Parts, another parable.

It tells me the right questions to ask,
which No One ever told me.
Size? Shape? Wing? Bill? Tail?
How does it behave? Treeclimber? Swims? Wades?
Pay its bills? Struts? Darts? Variations
on the V-formation? Mating trill?
Rump patches, wing bars, patterns.
Status is rareness, and matters.

The drawings vivid, yet I could not
tell between terns
(Arctic, Forster’s, Common, Least, Aleutian)—
a clue to my undiscerning nature.
Larger pictures assigned the single-sexed—
more room for androgyny in this small tome
that fits in my hand, small as if to indicate
how little I grasp, even having schooled

where I did. This must be
the New Tree of Knowledge, ripe with detail:
raven’s Roman-nose bill, whip-poor-will’s hyphens.
Ringed turtledove lives in L.A. city parks.
Family Mimidae are top-notch crooners.
The rose-throated becard promises
a thin, slurred whistle, seeoo—
I’m told that’s how I sound when asleep.

I dream of Paradise: a Lazuli Bunting, a wisp
of Black-Throated Green Warbler’s lisp:
zoo zee zoo zee zoo (zoo lower, zee on the same pitch).
Now, with few conifers near, I will make do,
as I do                as we do
with the crow, sparrow, starling
and mockingbird that grace
my eaves, their gifts of already fallen, still
falling eucalyptus and bamboo.