AN IMAGINARY LANDSCAPE WITH 29 BIRDS

Some years back, the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Museum asked me to write a poem about its exhibition of Audubon bird prints and include it in a reading there.  I decided to do with words to Audubon what Coltrane did with sounds to “My Favorite Things”—to turn a well-loved work of traditional art into a modernist work. I used the language equivalents of the principles of cubist painting to deconstruct and then reconstruct the reality of Audubon. The poem is called “Imaginary Landscape with 29 Birds.” The first 28 stanzas of the poem each describe a specific bird Audubon painted. The 29th bird is Brancusi’s sculpture, Bird in Space. “Imaginary Landscape with 29 Birds” was published in my first book of poetry, Music from Words.

 

IMAGINARY LANDSCAPE WITH 29 BIRDS

(AFTER AUDOBON)

 

Reptile stalking snake legs balance

whiter feather arching cruelty ending eyes

black-brown scissors poking after lizard slither.

                                                            Hooping Crane

 

Water ripples moving sand dunes follow

white plumed body backwards happy

neck primed to suck a fly off surface.

                                                            Trumpeter Swan

 

Claws embed in dying bird flesh dripping

blood and liver morsels brooding watchful

screeches floating feathers settling cliffward.

                                                                        Falcon

 

Pale cerulean cover clouds with bloodlust cackle

steel spikes slashing deeply into rabbit quiver

huge brown crossing peaks and whitecaps.

                                                                        Golden Eagle

 

Blackened wing expanses stretching craw prongs

cradle deer head beaks a lover poised

to poke moist eyes sharing spoils making love.

                                                                        Carrion Crow

 

Yellow claws clutch and lean away

from air stream joyful pipes to airborne

wind spans whirling over faded branch.

                                                            Black-winged Hawk

 

Turned away from sea cliff yearning

fledgling squawkers black and iron slivers

sparse crest move to hidden magnet wind rocks.

                                                                                    Great Cormorant

 

Webbed feet fern leaves clutch rock

brown and golden furry side rosettes

swelling doltish black-spot flowering eye-ring.

                                                                        Horned Grebe

 

Six orange-headed white caw fly dead branches

bright green feathers move about conceiving leaves

at distance summer pecking hairy nuts.

                                                            Carolina Parakeet

 

Crest-hanging long white twists

wise considers distant farmer rice patch

yellow lances trample weed.

                                                Snowy Heron

 

Barnacle molds adorning branches

beak thrust in beak thrust ensconcing kisses

feeding flap wings blissful yawn.

                                                            Passenger Pigeon

 

One web foot like white clam sucking black

hook-hanging eggshell beak, ballooning bellows

below bill shore-receded light house.

                                                            Brown Pelican

 

Black and white caught spreading action

water curve evading throat curve

open beak lands dead tree leaflessness.

                                                            Black-bellied Darter

 

Roseated wing expanse drips carmine deep

spoon bill wobbles claw-gripped rock decline

to gnat soup distant islands dreary.

                                                            Roseate Spoonbill

 

Night vitreous orbs yellow and question

in love with black in plume a thousand

birds in flight toward thickened nape.

                                                            Snowy Owl

 

Contented spiteful dissecting trout

open beak eye yellow glee beyond

river edge chopped cap white fly town.

                                                            Great White Heron

 

Black and pallid angel wings command

blench blue sky rough waters shriveled red legs

dangling steady taut dilapidated sea swells.

                                                                        Black Skimmer

 

Pink-beak canopy on shore draws

over lesser bird isosceles carnelian

deeper than the water bleaching stand.

                                                            Scarlet Ibis

 

One slow red-legged paddles airborne snoot

green-quill cockade floating into lilies

one bullet flight aimed at marsh grass.

                                                            Red-breasted Merganser

 

Happy yellow compass comrade thrusting

back at turgid blue, darkly cobalt jets

ingot hanging wind endurance.

                                                Great Blue Heron

 

Stream stepping craning open beak

unwary insect dark bar feathers

balance spawn in waded crest immobile.
Green Heron

 

Flaming solid crimson arch of neck

in taper shoulder wilting tail marsh

soak fellow splashing travelers.

                                                            American Flamingo

 

Yellow lining red smear blue smear yellow

white orb black top looking out befuddled

bloated white stripe grasses orange needle.

                                                                        Atlantic Puffin

 

Cochineal seashell fear comb undergrowth

step softly craning pea-head panic perched

on purple candy-caned futility.

                                                            Wild Turkey

 

Long brown pods of honey-locust split

and seedless blackness pecks at bareness

clasps on pencil furling wing.

Fish Crow

 

One of many riding eastern hemlock

penetrating yellow bud other hanging

lanterns other flapping celebrations.

                                                            American Crossbill

 

Black oak’s grandiose green and tawny

butterflies unaware of to whip-poor whirring menace

set to pounce one already swallows colors.

                                                                        WhipPoorWill

 

World-weary dark grasses blooming

blue and auburn wrinkles drowsy curving

neck descent to ancient eyes watching ruin.

                                                                        California Vulture

 

Or instead a shining metal elongation

lusting, thrusting towards the sky,

blinding color abstract movement.

                                                            Bird in Space

 

Marc Jampole

Originally published in Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007)

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