Will Wellman

Tampa at 8PM, Listening to a Podcast on Bird Migration
October 23, 2020 Wellman Will

TAMPA AT 8PM, LISTENING TO A PODCAST ON BIRD MIGRATION

 
 

Woodlawn Cemetery lies shadowed beneath violet-bellied clouds,
headstones Pollocked by the setting sun’s gold
 
drippings and only now are the cypress and live oaks
truly green. The Ancient Greeks, at a loss to say where
 
birds disappeared to, determined they became fishes
and just a few hundred years ago, faced with the same predicament,
 
the English naturalist Gilbert White declared
birds hibernated in mud, burrowing deep into the banks
 
of rivers and ponds. North Boulevard stretches to the bay’s
shore, from two miles out you catch the greyish-blue
 
of water where land terminates
between balustrade. Nowadays, scientists know birds
 
migrate to faraway lands to breed or winter; some weighing less
than a cup of water cross thousands of miles to arrive
 
in Sub-Saharan Africa or elsewhere. Bird fanciers in the 1700s
noticed when wild birds left, their caged Nightingales
 
would become plump and restless, suddenly nocturnal
and throw themselves against the cage—always
 
in the same direction. The fleeting moments
haunt me, too, and I wonder what it is
 
that pulls, why its absence pains like some
unrecoverable distance. Tampa fades silently to night,
 
heat lightning wakes an inconspicuous cloud for seconds
in milky fluorescence. Scientists hypothesize how birds
 
navigate when the day’s length changes—
using sun as compass, magnetoception, smell,
 
or visual landmarks. Telling the story of certain birds
which return to the same tree year after year, one ornithologist
 
humbly admits We really don’t know fully. Regardless,
something pulls even newborns and into the nothingness
 
of the air ahead they go.

Will Wellman’s poems have been published in The Florida Review and The Tampa Review. He is an editor and co-founder of The EcoTheo Review. He has a Master of Science in Forestry from the University of Kentucky and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.