Nature is wonderful—Baobab trees are mystifying, marvels of Peru are enchanting, and Nudibranchs are striking. The ocean is terrifying considering how much we do not know. In the words of Walt Whitman, “give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed”. But, given where I live, this is not quite so easy to access. I see many trees dripping with moss from inside my car as I drive and I see pruned wax myrtles swell with bobbing lizards while I walk my dog
Neither of these are particularly inspiring to me, having become a part of the early-morning/way-too-late-night generic landscape. They are beautiful, but spark no inspiration. They’re pleasant and colorful—like Mike and Ikes—but ultimately fade to the background.
For me, the exception to this rule is birds. Descended from dinosaurs, wickedly smart and completely misunderstood, these feathered heroes (when observed in the world) can’t not inspire. European Great Tits bludgeon bats to death. Nuthatches booby-trap their nests with poison. Lyrebirds can perfectly mimic the sounds of camera shutters and chain saws. They behave particularly, and often bizarrely, and the least flashy are sometimes the most interesting.
I have written many short stories and poems about birds, and briefly considered studying ornithology in college. I think the draw, for me, is both the mystique and the opportunities for anthropomorphization. Specific birds remind me of specific people, and for readers, a bird is something often easy to understand as the first layer of a metaphor.
There’s a reason that there are state birds (Florida’s is the Northern Mockingbird), and that ancient peoples worshiped them. They’re ancient, but still quirky. They’re hollow humans that can fly—and have personalities often just as defined.
PROMPT: Research a bird species and write a poem or short story where the bird is a metaphor for a person in your life or a character’s life. Fiction minimum 400 words; poetry minimum 15 lines.
–Zarra Marlowe, Managing Editor