Will Wellman

Tampa at 8PM, Listening to a Podcast on Bird Migration
April 23, 2019 Wellman Will



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 is a poet and writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a co-founder of The EcoTheo Review.