Seven obsolete forms
in leaf-work, stretched
at barbed fruit.
tremor, wings pulse
resists the blank
A tree-limb rips open
of the page – the paper
The lowermost looks
out (as if to
fly) to you.
It’s what’s missing
in the eye, calls
A Part of the Face
J.J. Audubon, 1820
He wished to admit the productions
of nature. He wished to see life in them
fresh, their faultless forms. He wished to
copy them in their own way, alive and
moving, alighted or on the ground. The
bird’s very tongue was important to him.
He laid his dead species on floors, then
tables and cloth-covered chairs. Neither
wing, nor leg, nor tail could he place in
attitudes according to his wishes. An eye
flashed white when he pushed the lids
aside with a finger.
He dreamed he pierced a carcass to fix
it on his board, passed a wire through the
mandible to pulley up the head, with finer
lines affixed the feet, outlined, coloured and
finished the likeness without thought
or hunger. A part of the face was injured
by a drop of water that dried where it
fell. He applied soft cork to restore the
desired effect, but the shadowy fissure
remains. Worn opening – ragged blur –
a limitless limit to sight.
The Lateness of the Season
Audubon’s Labrador Expedition
It was so cold that it was painful
to draw the whole day, yet I drew
a White-winged Crossbill and
a Puffin. We have had three
of the latter on board, alive, these
three days past. It amuses us to see
them running about the hold with a
surprising quickness, watching our
motions, and especially our eyes.
I cannot describe it; all I can say is that
so strong does the wind blow, and so great its
influence on our vessel, that her motion will not allow
me to draw. The rain is driven in sheets which seem scarcely
to fall on sea or on land; I can hardly call it rain; it is rather a mass
of water so thick that all objects at any distance are lost to sight, and the waters
comb up and beat about us as a newly caged bird does against its imprisoning walls.
I am much fatigued and wet to the skin, but
we found the nest of a Peregrine Falcon on a
tremendous cliff, with a young one a week old,
quite white with down.
The parents flew fiercely at our eyes.
I had three Foolish Guillemots thrown
overboard alive to observe their actions.
Two fluttered on top of the water for
twenty yards or so, then dove, and didn’t
rise again for fully a hundred yards from
the ship. The third went in head-
foremost, like a man diving, and swam
under the surface so smoothly and fast
that it looked like a fish with wings.
We shot a Ruby-crowned Wren. It sang for a long time
before it was shot and perched on the tops of the firs,
removing from one to another as our party came
close. So strange, so beautiful was the song
that I pronounced the singer a new type
of Warbler. John shot it. It fell to the
ground, and John found it and
brought it to me. I draw this
The peculiar cast of the sky, which never seems
to be certain.
Butterflies flitting over snow banks.
I tried to finish my drawing. I covered
my paper to protect it from the rain, with
the exception of the few inches where
I wished to work, yet that small space
was not spared.
When missed by the shot,
the Piping Plover rises almost
perpendicularly, passing quite
entirely out of sight.
A Flock of Flamingoes
Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Of what avail to see more
or less of Florida?
Mr. Brand declines
to acknowledge your Eagle
or my letter. I have no place
to meet you at.
Why do you go on
in vacant precincts? I am anxious
to see this excursion ended
and ourselves once more
living in ourselves.
If I could come, I would give you
Your volume calls
for the birds of America
yet you enlarge it into
an endless pursuit.
Where there are no new
birds, why remain?
Taking Care of Surfaces
The fish-eye gapes
blind, the bird
glares bloody shot
as their mouths
gasp the same swath
in the translucid field
of the Plate.
A Well-Known Object
The pleasure of possession lies
depleted on the ground. Spare heat
dies in my palm. I pierce the deep
breast on a board, thread wire
to raise the rundown head. A pin
to the tail sets halcyon aloft
and red and blue blaze from three
dimensions to two. I push the lids
aside – new colours gush the eye
as if to promise seven days of calm
and build a nest of fish bones
that floats on the sea.
Colin Morris was born and raised on the Lancashire coast of England, and lives in south Berkshire County, Massachusetts. His poems on Audubon have also appeared in Lily Poetry Review and descant.
The Ekphrastic Review
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