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‘Gli Ucelli’ and two more poems.



Gli Ucelli (The Birds)

For Margherita Harwell
“many birds fly here and there
in sunlight and not all are omens”


this morning’s birds,
Tuscan, pecking at the season’s
last surviving persimmons,

diosperi, here, god’s fire, winter
orange, like flames, votive, along
bare branches, buon Natale, still;

which birds are these, then,
swallows or swifts,
kaladóon, hirundo, speaking

into the chill morning, their
struggle against the fruit,
raucous, wings flailing;

sleep is a kind of fight,
a lift into the thinner air,
the forward press of dreams;

Vinci, just one hillside
west, the Codex and its
birds, inked marginalia,

how the tail is lifted
as the head descends,
the quickness of the thrust

downward or the wings’
recovery, differing among
different species, their rush,

prisms and levers, how
the wingtip is drawn in
to lessen the body’s strain,

vectors and hinged parts,
wind drawn out in lines
that trail in ink behind them


Fermi and Respighi at sea
together, a passage from Rio
to Genoa, wavetips, the South

Atlantic sun, day after day
in deck chairs; side by side
they talked Italian politics,

laughed at Il Duce’s plan
to give cash bonuses to parents
who would name their babies after him,

the poor south—Calabria, Puglia
Sicily—filled with little Benitos
and Benitas, a kind of immortality;

eventually Fermi posed
his question, what he had been saving,
Can you explain music in terms of physics?

Respighi said he would think
about it; if I had the training, he said,
the vocabulary, I could, I suppose, describe

the vibration of sounds in air, how
it moves outward in all directions,
how it is altered, however slightly,

by the surfaces it collides with,
hard, soft, flat, curved, various,
how these vibrations enter the ear

and in turn vibrate the ear drum,
but all that would describe any sound,
mere noise, speech, the engines beneath us;

in the Conservatorio in Rome,
he said the next day, is a Roman
statue of a boy, leaning toward

two chickens carved onto the same
pedestal, his right hand extended
has two or three seeds carved onto it

and there are a few seeds carved
onto the stone pedestal in front
of the chickens, his hair sways

forward across his cheeks,
his short toga raised above
the backs of his bare thighs;

the physics of this sculpture
is uncomplicated, the boy,
his toga, the seeds in his hand,

the seeds on the pedestal,
the chickens and the seeds
carved in front of them

are all cut from the same stone,
so the molecules and the atoms
are all the same, the hardness

of the stone and its stability
can be described and quantified,
its weight, its mass, its volume,

but none of that would speak
to the moment the sculptor spared
for us, the implicit fall of the seeds

from the boy’s hand to the ground,
his forward motion and the feeding
chicken’s urgent peck and scratch;

the action is ours, not the stone’s,
as is its stillness, and whatever
spins inside it, whatever clutches

molecule to molecule may be
essential but is irrelevant to
that chiseled ancient moment;

I have written imitations
of birdsongs for strings,
oboes and flutes, for entire

orchestras, have written
the struggle and glide
of birds in flight, Enrico;

the players play, note
after note, each vanishing into
the next; sound is my stone;

time is the shape it takes
in air, like flight, always
memory and anticipation,

neither quite hand or seed
but the space between one
the other, quick as thought


gulls this evening
against the roseate
western sky; wishes
like songs, unsettle me

as though the future
were an oddly plausible
lyric, hidden like melody
in jazz, something you

eventually recognize;
part of its delight is
lifting the familiar
out of the strange

Covering Stan Getz

a line in time, time
curved, held and bent;

we struggle with
the moment as though

it were a shell we
could pry open

with our finger-
nails, releasing

something bright,
soft and pliant,

the air quick
and filled with it

MICHAEL ANANIAs most recent books of poetry are Continuous Showings and Nightsongs and Clamors, both from Mad Hat Press. Also, from Mad Hat, From the Word to the Place, edited by Lea Graham, a collection of essays on Anania’s work. He lives in Austin, Texas, and on Lake Michigan.

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