Poetry Finalist : Terrain.org 5th Annual Contest
Mon Père, Mon Frère
Tit-high in the green, mid-morning sea, he is salt
and pepper locks, spring-stepped, possibly eighty.
With chartreuse scepter, lives for the beep, news
from the depths that could make him rich—army
of vintage toy soldiers, cache of Liberty dimes,
Lincoln’s ashen smile. In his spandex Body Glove,
he is after more than he will ever find, his glittery
sickle’s next find whatever the ocean decides—
doohickey, gewgaw, gimcrack, John Junior’s girlfriend’s
tweezers for the brows she could never true up.
It is Twelfth Night, and he is plumbing for pea and bean,
for queen and king, for the prize at the bottom of the box.
In this sea he will find more sea; beneath this sand more sand;
sky will always equal sky. Ensconced in his ear-cocked task,
his mind a great porpoise surfacing close, close and out of reach.
Our task? To scrutinize his scrutinizing, his deftness at digging up
answers to questions he hasn’t yet asked, maps laid out by sand crabs,
ruddy turnstones; he is all Jack Russell on the trail of a raccoon’s scent,
the cat that’s whiffed the fish-head life. With his dutiful dirk,
his finding contraption, his getting gizmo, his gadget sniffer-outer,
with his long-legged-fly intent, with his hands and feet doing
what they are bid, he’s our prototype, our exemplary collection
of complex proteins, the uncracked nut of land versus sea, our love
of the sun, our lunatic devotion to the moon. Mon père, mon frère, Abraham
and Abel and Ahab. Palm fronds sway in the language of lush,
and like the singer of the sea, he is master and maker. Oh, frangente,
the breaking and the groundswell, the oceanic walk we take,
the sloughing off of common sense, the abandonment of reason.
Distribution and Migration of North American Gulls
At the Jersey shore, each and every a gull, plain and simply
not chortling, never guffawing. I’m not quite sure how we didn’t
notice each one unique—pink versus yellow-footed, long
or diminutive necked, but loved them for their raucousness,
their moxie, knack for snapping French fries from let-fly fists,
gulping KFC, oblivious, it seemed, to their cannibalistic thronging.
When I arrived in the belly of Iowa, landlocked like never before,
focused a scope on the smudge of black on a yellow beak,
I was hooked: why hadn’t anyone shared? Ross’s, Glaucous,
Slaty-backed. The ones back home, I learned, were Laughing.
All that autumn deep in discernment—wing tips, darker mantle
versus pale, degree of streaking on a head. Soon I was joining
early morning birders at a dock, shouting Bonapartes! Thayers!
Franklins! Taking note of a Herring’s apical spots. Till one day,
at a park called Discovery, walking the shoreline, happened
on a raft I’d only seen in books–bold upper wing patch,
long pointed wings, notched tail, short black bill with narrow
tip: Sabine’s? No one to ask, no phone from which to text,
from which to access allaboutbirds.org. Gull that breeds
in Nunavat. Juveniles experts can’t place. No ‘year round’
to speak of, near-constant journey from tundra to tropics,
back. Like dozens of attentive school children in straight-
back chairs, they bobbed in the surf, circling to stir up prey.
On the opposite side of a country, with no one and nothing
I knew. No glib comebacks. No guidebook. Nothing to teach.
Read poetry by Martha Silano also appearing in Terrain.org Issue 31.