Will Wellman

Tampa at 8PM, Listening to a Podcast on Bird Migration
April 23, 2019 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 is a poet and essayist based in Tampa, Florida. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and co-founder of The EcoTheo Review.