Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not Knowing Why

Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Ann Struthers

Not Knowing Why

Adolescent white pelicans squawk, rustle, flap their wings,
lift off in a ragged spiral at imaginary danger.
What danger on this island in the middle
of Marble Lake? They’re off to feel
the lift of wind under their iridescent wings,
because they were born to fly,
because they have nothing else to do,
because wind and water are their elements,
their Bach, their Homer, Shakespeare,
and Spielberg. They wheel over the lake,
the little farms, the tourist village with their camera eyes.

In autumn something urges
them toward Texas marshes. They follow
their appetites and instincts, unlike the small beetles
creeping along geometric roads, going toward small boxes,
toward lives as narrow or as wide as the pond,
as glistening or as gray as the sky.
They do not know why. They fly, they fly.


Why do animals do the things they do, really?  Not being human they do not have any agenda nor reasons for their actions, do they?  Well, they just do, is all. 

And why do the movies, and movie makers like Spielberg, endow animals with human characteristics?  So that humans watching can relate or make a connection when watching them in the film?

Which is why in the first line even the poet imbues the pelicans flying off from the island in Marble Lake with human qualities, as if they are really some adolescents, like our human equivalents. But these feathered adolescents are not very graceful, at the beginning. They “squawk, rustle, flap” and then “lift off in a ragged spiral at imaginary danger”.

The balking at the end of “squawk” tells us how akward their take-off is. As they gain height, they become less so, as “rustle” tells us.  Then “flap” and “lift”, with their l sounds, tell us they’re off and flying smoothly now. Or are they, with “ragged spiral at imaginary danger”:  danger./What danger?

After this question mark, the pelicans continue their flight smoothly.  And the reader can feel this unruffleness, reading the soft and lulling r’s, f’s, l’s and w’s in “They’re off to feel/the lift of wind under their iridescent wings”.

The three “because”s bring us humans down back to earth, to realize why these pelicans fly so.  At the break, after “Spielberg”, with a full-stop, like a cut-to in a film, we see them fly, effortlessly, again, reading the repeating of the  w’s, l’s and f consonants and the long vowels in “They wheel over the lake,/the little farms”. “little” , followed, a word later, by a comma marks the sight of the tourist village from a bird’s eye view.

The second stanza explains more about why the birds fly away, even when there is no danger. The explanation: none, really; besides just hunger and animal instincts, just like the ground-moving animals. 

The last two lines are a symphony of rhymes: possible off-rhymes in "gray" and "sky"; full rhymes in "they", "they", "they", and "sky", "why", "fly", "fly".  They simulate the many birds up in the sky, flying.

They just fly, is all. 


This poem first appeared in the Coe Review, Vol. 39, no. 1, in 2008.

Recent work of Ann Struthers:
What You Try to Tame, The Coe Review Press, 2004

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