David Koehn


The Eskimo name,                Mitqutailaq,                                notes the absent
          Middle tail feathers.            Vectors of cirrus,                        the angle
                    Of feathers                              suggest a Y                               drawn out of thin air
          Into a fine point,                   and then given wings.              The tern's
Scribblings                             on the sheets                               of invisible wind
          Amuse and delight               the dilettante                              birdwatcher--
                    Even the resident                  ornithologist                            shrugs and smiles
          At the recorded                     antics of one tern's                     airy doodle.
Yet there is a stoic fury,        which stops short                       of abandon,
          Evident each time                the tern decisively                      swoops up
                    Away from                              an ill-chosen bluff,                  as if where to alight
          Was of utmost                       importance.                                 No bird of paradise
Could match                           this cold-hardy fellow                for grace,
          Turn for turn.                        Even the scientific name          suggests
                    Ecstatic control                      of flight:                                    hesitant, serious, joyous.
          And who knew                      such simple                                 expressions of flight
Would cover vast                   territories                                    as they migrate from pole
          To pole.                                   It is, reportedly,                         most rare
                    To catch one                            preening,                                 as if such wicked ablutions,
          This darting                           only as quick                              as the eye can follow,
This uncertain                       certainty,                                     this missing middle,
          Are the secrets                                                                            to happiness.
                    Half snow,                               half earth,                                the ground's spring splotches
          Skirmish                                  with the Arctic Tern                in standing water.
According to the film reel:   black and white                          conceals
          Birds of night                          and water, day                         will highlight its flight:
                    The arc, hover,                       and dive                                    a single calligraphic swirl.


At the University of Florida, Debora Greger would take her poetry workshop classes to odd lectures and events around campus. We were to attend these events instead of workshopping poems. We were to then turn these experiences into poems. If I recollect properly she had us attend a fancy organ recital, another time we attended a lecture on the "Cold-hardiness of the Monarch Butterly," and another time we attended a "Discussion of Population Studies of the Desert Tortoise."

No poems came of this process for me...but I learned how research, deep research, and the act of alternate discourse on a subject can provide a different tack on the subject of a poem, providing a rich subtext for the work. Years later when running an eco-tourism outfit in Alaska I became fascinated with the Arctic Tern, its etymology in the Inupiaq Language, and its biology as presented to me by the premier ornithologist Dr. Richard Norton of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory. This poem is the result of that obsession.

In the figuratum poems such as "Wings" by Simias from the 3rd century AD to Caligrammes such as "Il Pleut" by Apollinaire at the turn of the 19th century there is a long tradition of poems that take advantage of shape, of white space, of the visual representation of the ink on the page (or on the Web). That said my poem, "Notes..." appears as notes spread across a page, yet I use standard written English to give the poem sense when read left to right. I try and break the rules by using a "slight" form, i.e. a carmen figuratum, but try make this slight form adhere to the stricter demands of accentual-syllabic free verse. In the end, hopefully, turning the form in a unique way for the reader.