Ground Birds in Open Country

Stanley Plumly

 
They fly up in front of you so suddenly,
tossed, like gravel, by the handful,
kicked like snow or dead leaves into life.
Or if it's spring they break back and forth
like schools of fish silver at the surface,
like the swifts I saw in the hundreds
over the red tile roofs of Assisi—
they made shadows, they changed sunlight,
and at evening, before vespers,
waved back to the blackbird nuns.
My life list is one bird at a time long,
what Roethke calls looking. The eye,
particular for color, remembers when
a treeful would go gray with applause,
in the middle of nowhere, in a one-oak field.
I clapped my hands just for the company.
As one lonely morning, green under glass,
a redwing flew straight at me, its shoulders
slick with rain that hadn't fallen yet.
In the birdbook there, where the names are,
it's always May, and the thing so fixed
we can see it—Cerulean, Blackpoll, Pine.
The time one got into the schoolroom
we didn't know what it was, but it sang,
it sailed along the ceiling on all sides,
and blew back out, wild, still lost,
before any of us, stunned, could shout
it down. And in a hallway once,
a bird went mad, window by locked window,
the hollow echo length of a building.
I picked it up closed inside my hand.
I picked it up and tried to let it go.
They fly up so quickly in front of you,
without names, in the slurred shapes of wings.
Scatter as if shot from twelve-gauge guns.
Or they fly from room to room, from memory
past the future, having already gathered
                in great numbers on the ground.
 
From Orphan Hours by Stanley Plumley. Copyright 2012 by Stanley Plumley. Reprinted with permission of W. W. Norton & Co.

Poems by This Author

Constable's Clouds, For Keats by Stanley Plumly
Horse in the Cage by Stanley Plumly
Its face, as long as an arm, looks down & down.
In Passing by Stanley Plumly
On the Canadian side, we're standing far enough away
Infidelity by Stanley Plumly
The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
Long Companions by Stanley Plumly
Out-of-the-Body Travel by Stanley Plumly
And then he would lift this finest
Spirit Birds by Stanley Plumly
The spirit world the negative of this one
Wildflower by Stanley Plumly
Some--the ones with fish names--grow so north
Woman on Twenty-Second Eating Berries by Stanley Plumly
She's not angry exactly but all business,


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
Birdcall
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
Gulls
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
Hummingbird
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
Interlude
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
Red-Legged Kittiwake
by Emily Wilson
Revision in My Wife's Powder Room
by Lauren Berry
Small Study
by Emily Wilson
Song of the Owl
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sympathy
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
Tigers
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