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Category: Amy Glynn

Behaviors of White-Throated Swifts

1. Chase without Contact

Sure, you can call me

Fast if it makes you feel

Better. Say it

As if it were a bad thing, as if

It weren’t part

Of the attraction.

It’s all right. Thrill

And insult live cheek by jowl

In this field. No ill-will,

No hard feelings. In these urban canyons’

Relentless gray,

Even a black and white bird stands

Out as a slash of color, and the color

Is speed, is swiftness.

You can call me what you like, look at the dashing

Figure I cut across these rooftops, call me

Metonymic; mimic

Me. Call me mimetic, call

Me trouble, call me what

You call what’s just beyond your reach, your fleet

Wings’ each beat—keep calling

Across the shrilling sky. I’m willing To listen.

Call me fast

And never stop calling.

Follow me, we are

Born for this, all-supple, all

Subtle, supremely responsive, rising

Into mist, into a metaphysics only we

Can understand, alas,

Alacrity, but how

Can you miss me

If I never go away?

2. Screaming Party

Odd birds. Nobody knows precisely why

We do these things. We only know that there

Are impulses, and there are rules. We fly

In flocks, big ones, a thousand sometimes, air

Made solid, air made feathered, air made noise,

Made boisterous laughter. Slowing down is not

An option. Yet one certainly enjoys

This fractal billowing, the social knot;

One’s lifted up by kinship. Foraging

Alone is not enough. A critical mass

Of aeronauts, of extroverts, we sing

Badly, but with exuberance, a brass

Ensemble with one mind and infinite

Voices. The sky is vast. We speak for it

3. Chase with Contact

Think fast. Think, think. Think speed, think elegant

Acceleration. Think ascension, think

Celerity, think feathered bullet, sent

From somewhere into somewhere. Who’s content

To settle, to give love unearned? Don’t blink

Or you might miss me. Oh, I’m fast all right,

You think you’ve got me: think again. Think no

Rest for the wicked.This could be a fight

For primacy, or a flirtation. Might

Be both. In either case, though, we both know

We’re thinking the same thing. The nip, the nape,

The aerial tumble and the rush of air

Our lives are. There’s a predetermined shape

To it: now I am yours. Now I escape.

It isn’t you, it’s me. It’s us. Not fair,

But there it is. No one can fly entwined

For long. We are committed to our speed.

We move fast, and think faster. Never mind

What doesn’t matter. Think about it: find

Yourself in seeking me. Find what you need.

4. Courtship Fall

The slowest thing we ever do

is fall. The terminal

velocity we’re sentenced to,

the pure celestial

celerity, means everything —

sex, sleep — must happen on the wing.

How likeably alike we are,

how elegantly limned:

the sailplane wing, the bright-white bar

flashing, the deftly slimmed

cylinder of the breast (cigare

volant), all engineered for far-

fetched speeds. They say if you don’t stand

for something, you will fall

for anything. But we, who land

seldom, and not at all

if we can help it, comprehend

things differently. What’s at the end

of five hundred vertical feet? Not just

the ground. Abandoning

volition is a kind of trust

we’re built for. Anything

worth doing is worth doing right.

Forget the world: fall. Forget flight:

fall. This is passion. Ekstasis.

Absorption. We’re beside

ourselves. Axis, mirror, the bliss

of parity, the wide

sky falling ever upward. We

are one bird, one identity.

But earth impends. It always does.

Part of the thrill to know

that we must separate. It was,

dear mate, great, if not slow,

still thrilling to the quick, a trick

of Tantra, and arithmetic.

5. Silent Dread

The funny thing is, the collective squawk,

the addled flapping, all the loopiest

maneuvers we perform, seem for the world

like mass hysteria. We are a shock

of noise, a panic button of unfurled

flight feathers. In this state, who’d see the jessed

hawk’s shadow cutting closer? Who would know

real danger from imagined? We are swifts,

so named because we travel at such speeds

we’ve been pared down to meet only the needs

of motion. In the dusk, we dine on drifts

of aerial plankton. We’re equipped to go

so long without a roost, our legs and feet

have dwindled to an afterthought. Perhaps

it’s an adaptive impulse, then, that makes

us feel this rash, unbidden urge to beat

a group retreat. The light shifts, and it fakes

us out. And there is silence then, a lapse

in vocalizing that is still a sort

of subtle speech. It is as if we’ve all

had the same thought at once. At once, the chatter

ceases. A rush of panic. And we scatter,

and reconvene elsewhere without one call

to set the spot. Perhaps the sharp report

of silence never correlates with real

peril. Call it irrational, a rush

to judgment. But admit you’ve felt it too:

words dying in your throat, a sudden hush,

a silent dread. We sense, and we construe

collectively. We are the things we feel.

from Poetry Northwest Spring & Summer 2011More by Amy Greacan from the library

Copyright © Amy Greacan, 2011.
Used with the permission of the author on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

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