Thirteen ways of looking at an unseen bird

In response to “Learning the Name” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Read its name in English, such as crow or Swainson’s thrush.
Read its name in Latin.
Look at a picture of a bird of its species and sex.
Write an equation to model its flocking behaviour.
Add its decaying nest to your collection.
Find its bones among black nightshades in the ruins of a harvested field.
Look at the bars on your window, the iron latch on your door.

Study the tree where you think it hides.
Close your eyes and count the shape of its song.
Transcribe its cry into dots and sticks on lines.
Look at your own ears.

Measure the lips of the day-white moon. Threads of sunlight hanging between blue hills. Your eye in a raindrop. The face of a gnat.

Stand under the tree until it shits on the sphere of your head.

From A coat of ashes.
“Learning the Name” is on p. 121 of Finding my Elegy: New and Selected Poems by Ursula K. Le Guin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010.


Among the hundreds,
     one leaf hanging.
Pink hibiscus
     flowers, just showing
the sun their red
     tongues, their pollen-blobs.
Morning sun, the
     most lovely: that angle

of the rays, and the dust not
     yet as risen
as it is at evening. The world,
     the hibiscus bush,
the city: cleansed by darkness.
     The light making
a communion of shadow and shine
     among the gathering
of leaves, branches, blossoms,
     cobwebs, feathers.

Among the hundreds,
     one leaf hanging.
As she runs
     in her business suit to the train
a woman is brushing
     her hair. Above the street

a single bird has come
     to sit on a wire.
Its silhouette, a comma,
inscribes a dark pause
     on the whispering sky.

From The emptied bridge.
This poem won second prize in the Karen W Treanor Awards 2014.