Red-Legged Kittiwake

Emily Wilson

Native it seems to no part
of the North American continent
but some islets off
the rugged scarps of the Aleutians
in the loose entablatured cliffs
among dwarf-willow tips.
Known if at all by its silhouette
(we can know such things by their silhouettes)
the red-legged kittiwake
glimpsed in isolate parts of Oregon
California and southern Nevada
said to go silent in winter
slitting through snow
the red-legged kittiwake.
The red of the red-legged kittiwake
of a kinship with black
solders across the ice-gaps.
Native in no real part
but its obdurate course the red-
legged kittiwake goes silent.
We can know still more by rips
through the weed.
Red-legged kittiwake
gone back in the brain toward
noise of the narrowing ship-lanes.
Silver bones of the wrist
in their riggings rotate.
Pulp of the madder-root
shocked in white alum then soaked
through the wool for the waistcoat.
The frigate sprays back gray rime
cuts through the ice-skirt
pursuing such things
to the knit of the nest.
Crowberry swollen with fog
lichen resist on the lowest
spokes of the spruce
red-legged kittiwake
native to no part
alone in its parts
Kelp closes up
where the bird has just been
The legs retract in the pan
of the tail near the crotch
against the streaked ruff
bits of the barbs in breakage
out in the vanes
tipped into place
leaf of the willow tipped into
its branch the tip but tip to its whole
So where does it go when gone.
The wake of the factory ships.
Its chevrons compound the steep bluffs
it makes itself into those ranks
like pistons or books.
Its numbers are known to be in decline.
Is red for the advent
of sex or something more plain.
The sea works its surface.
Notched and convex.
It gives up its force in forms it must make.
It has a grease shine.
It is where they go when gone isn't it
through the known parts

From Micrographia. Copyright © 2009 by Emily Wilson. Used with permission of The University of Iowa Press.

Poems by This Author

Pastoral by Emily Wilson
The mordants in their noise
Small Study by Emily Wilson
Sparrows swiveling the feeder

Further Reading

Poems about Birds
Tender Buttons [Chicken]
by Gertrude Stein
Littlefoot, 19, [This is the bird hour]
by Charles Wright
Rocket Fantastic [excerpt]
by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
The Scarlet Ibis, Section VII
by Susan Hahn
A Bird came down the Walk (328)
by Emily Dickinson
A Bird in Hand
by Amber Flora Thomas
A Peacock in Spring
by Joyelle McSweeney
Albatross in Co. Antrim
by Robin Robertson
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Birding at the Dairy
by Sidney Wade
Birds Again
by Jim Harrison
Birds Appearing In A Dream
by Michael Collier
Black bird, red wing
by Nickole Brown
Darwin's Finches
by Deborah Digges
Dispatches from Devereux Slough
by Mark Jarman
Dove, Interrupted
by Lucie Brock-Broido
Evening Hawk
by Robert Penn Warren
Ground Birds in Open Country
by Stanley Plumly
by William Carlos Williams
Hardware Sparrows
by R. T. Smith
Home to Roost
by Kay Ryan
Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
by Emily Dickinson
by Elaine Terranova
I am Like a Desert Owl, an Owl Among the Ruins
by Noelle Kocot
If the Owl Calls Again
by John Haines
In Flight
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
In the Memphis Airport
by Timothy Steele
by Edith Sitwell
Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens
by Jack Prelutsky
Leda and the Swan
by W. B. Yeats
Leda, After the Swan
by Carl Phillips
Let Birds
by Linda Gregg
My Mother Would Be a Falconress
by Robert Duncan
Ode to a Nightingale
by John Keats
Paper Swallow
by Stanley Moss
Poet as Immortal Bird
by Ron Padgett
Revision in My Wife's Powder Room
by Lauren Berry
Small Study
by Emily Wilson
Song of the Owl
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy
The Eagle
by Lord Alfred Tennyson
The Heron
by Linda Hogan
The Life So Short...
by Eamon Grennan
The Nightingale
by Sir Philip Sidney
The Parakeets
by Alberto Blanco
The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Sparrow
by Gerald Stern
The Starlings
by Jesper Svenbro
The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Yellow Bittern (An Bunnan Bui)
by Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens
Three Moves
by John Logan
by Melissa Ginsburg
To a Skylark
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
To a Waterfowl
by William Cullen Bryant
White Stork
by Michael Waters
Wild Swans
by Edna St. Vincent Millay