The Bird Artists

by Laurie Byro
About Poetry Forum
First Place, March 2007
Judged by Pascale Petit


When my skin no longer fits, I carry a bag of bones
to the edge of the ocean. I steal the breath from a gull.
On the beach a mother bends to help a young boy
bundle up a baby cormorant. I watch as they cradle it,

hold a wing into the air and fling it eastward.
I thought you could teach me how to fly. I made you
out of sand dunes and red clay. My husband sleeps.
I conjure up you, Merwin, and you, Merlin.

Palm trees and ancient words, a black cauldron
of seawater and fire. You spread the fan of the cormorant’s
wing and arrange your pigments and brushes, stroke

each feather with woodland brown or green.
I feel my skin begin to loosen. I pick away the lice,
curl back the sclerotic welt of paint.


"The Bird Artists" is poetry as spell or charm, as container and transformer. It begins and ends with a skin: "when my skin no longer fits" to "I feel my skin begin to loosen... curl back the sclerotic welt of paint." In between there's a body that I can't quite pin down: a bag of bones, a baby cormorant, a gull's breath, sand dunes and red clay, seawater and fire, pigments and brushes are gathered as ingredients for the "black cauldron" of the poem. Merwin is conjured to work magic for it, (which brings to my mind W.S. Merwin), and Merlin the wizard. By the last line human skin has become painted feathers. Every line is weighted with a surprising image or action. Even though the effect is mythic, there's a precise highly wrought feel to this poem. Not a word or space is wasted. Vulnerable, visceral and ethereal, it lingers in the imagination and draws me back to marvel at its compact power. --Pascale Petit

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