Passenger Pigeons
by Linda Bamber

1. Paris

You return to some city you love
              and it's too exactly right

               so finding yourself again
in ever-perfect Paris
                                        (par exEmple)
you sigh to your spouse
                        If only the kids were here.

Of course that wouldn't help.
since even in Kyoto
                           as that slyboots, Basho, says,
              I long for Kyoto.

Lost cities . . . worse,
              losses in the natural world

flocks of rosy gold green birds
              that in my childhood, sighs John Muir,
filled the sky the livelong day
horizon to horizon --

the thought of things like these
              is hard to take. If only

I could Be There Then! Or see
                         the cod
off George's Bank that
             stayed the progress of our ship
             as an excited John
                           Cabot reported. Thrashing
wild excited silver fish!
             You could walk on them,
                                   some said

              which I don't believe; or catch them in a basket
                                     which I do.
That was centuries ago; but in my youth
              Tim Tower said ten years ago
                          you could catch big sea fish here,
along the shore. You never see that any more,

he said; shaking his head
                                        and looking at his shoes,

never see that. That's so sad!   What if we lived
              when hundred-foot-high chestnut trees
                          were in the mountains by the millions
still?  Wouldn't life be grand?
             American forests! cried an ecstatic Muir.
             The glory of the world!
Enough for every beast and bird and son of Man!
and nobody need have cared had there been

no pines in Norway, no cedars of Lebanon
              no vine-clad selvas in the basin of the Amazon!

God help me, but that plucks my


2. Ice

On the 1899 expedition to
              the great ice river now known as Muir Glacier
Muir himself
              on reaching it
              got down and kissed the ice.

                          Hello? Who kisses ice? As captive soldiers
              kneel and kiss the oil-stained ground
beside the landing stairs when they get home. What exile

was Muir in from ice
                                     that stirred him so
to see it?                                 (These days,
              we should all be kissing ice, of course;
                           God help us all.)

3. Wind-swept

Little is known of Basho's early life
two snippets
                          are repeated endlessly. At one

time I coveted an official post with a tenure of land
is one; and

              there was a time when I was fascinated with the ways
              of homosexual love
is the other. Kyoto

where I was young. I was writing then
                          for fun
still expecting honor and promotion. I fucked
              whom I pleased; for fun!
              in my straw hat and sandals
I sometimes pass through town

              my spirit like thin drapery
torn and swept away at the slightest stir
                         of wind.
Here are all the
gardens, geishas, temples that I knew; son
of a small-time samurai, I

              was having fun. Do you long
                           for Kyoto, like me?

Yet there is that within me
             that one day took to writing poetry.
It started then as part
                         of a fashionable life

but now,
             it knows no other art
                          than this; and therefore
             it hangs on

                                       more or less blindly.

4. Monastery

I don't want to talk too much about Basho
this isn't really about Basho

but How nice
             he said, just once
not to see Mt. Fuji through mist!

And so say I!   Why must we
              always peer at mountains, cities, birds, ice, fish
                           through the hocus-pocus mist
              of longing?  Let things
just be themselves
                                       or not at all!

It is the people outside of the monastery
who feel its atmosphere says

Suzuki Roshi; as I was and did
              when I returned years later
              for a visit.
Tears were flowing from my eyes, nose, mouth!
And yet when I was living there,
             everyone just did what he should do.
If the wind blew through the pine trees
                       it just blew.
Coming back
hearing the bells and the monks reciting the sutra
            I was undone. But
those who are practicing
           actually do not feel anything

5. Sand

Thoreau felt nothing for the still-abundant cod
in Provincetown. He wasn't moved
to see it piled feet deep

or set on wicker racks to dry. Where one man
's fish ended

                          he observed, amused,
another's began --

the villagers' yards having been much improved
for this purpose. The fish, which he called
               "little treasures,"
seemed just a step

           up in value from
the sand, something else he thought Cape Cod
had too much of. Can you believe, he said, I saw somebody
selling it?
or trying to; which proves
that a man confers a value on the most worthless thing
by mixing himself with it.
Later he

let up on sand, sounding slightly elegiac
                         to find his shoes filled with a gill of it
              when he got home; which he used
to sand my pages with. (A gill's
              a quarter pint.) (My own ex sometimes

brought home sand in small amounts;
I found some in the basement
and threw it out.) In cowhide boots

men stood atop the cod
and pitched the fish in barrows

one young dude chewing
             and spitting. Well, sir, thought I,
when that older man sees you
                                                   he will speak to you.

But presently
I saw the older man
                         do the same.

6. The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation

What sets us off? Not always
what you'd think. I threw away the sand all right,
             bagged in its baggie
                                        with its browning twisty-tie;
but then unearthed a printed letter

my name and college dormitory room
chastely typed beneath the text.

While, it gently said, you are not
                          to become a college teacher,
you are expected to give
                                        serious thought
to a career in college teaching.

That hit the spot!
I've been a college teacher all my life! I cried.
To my surprise,
                         tears were flowing from my nose, mouth and eyes!
The fatherly administrator, slightly rueful in his next
(which brought the check)

had a mild request. Although yours, he said,
is not a letter-writing generation,

drop us a line sometimes
                                        if you can. At that I was off

like the remembered flocks of birds
the largest of them stretched
                                     across several States
             and belts of different kinds of weather

following the unseen leader
            never hesitating at a turn of way.

Or like a runner through the city streets
            years flying off her back like clothes
borough after borough,
                          bridges, ridges, city parks.

Mine is not a letter-writing generation? Mine?
By the time I got back
            I was twenty again

but no one was there to greet me,
           so it felt
                       like kissing ice.
Beneath the winter garments
                      of adulthood I had stripped to shiny runners' gear:
mesh-paneled shorts with
                                             an IPodNano in their pocket
and a silky nylon-polyester shell. On my chest
pink lightning blazed
           against an ink-black skin-tight top. We used to wear

plain cotton shorts to run in; now
          a technical fabric like CoolMax
is thought to be a better bet
                         for how it deals with sweat.
Behind the stanchions spectators were piled feet deep,
                                                    like cod,
          cheering and offering treats.
                                                              It was
to be myself but young again; it is bewildering
                                     this growing old.

7. Goose

One summer afternoon
                                      I chased a loon
                          on Walden Pond. (The loon
is what we long for, late and soon.)
A pretty game, a man against a loon!
The loon would dive, I'd row like mad across the lake
                       but it was always a mistake.
Straining my eyes over the water's surface one way,
           time and again
                        I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly laugh
                                                              behind me,

says Thoreau. I don't mind chasing poems
              unexpected places; or waiting
while they dive. But now
                        this one won't rise

at all; apparently the loon has died
                           in the pond bottom muck
             leaving me in this
                         small boat of shallow draft
marooned. Okay,

forget the loon. I'll settle for the day
an ordinary unelusive goose
            came up to me for food.

I fed her popcorn from a plastic bag;
            she loved it; so did I.
Then she tucked a leg and napped

            and the afternoon went by
me reading, her sleeping; friends;
                           or at least
companions. A goose
is not a longed-for loon; but it's not a nuisance either
           as some people think.
Its shit's just grass! I saw that bird's pink
tongue in her black face.

Black velvet head, immaculate
                        white chinstrap
then the elegant long neck
                                      also black.
What's wrong with that? Far may it be from me
to criticize Thoreau
           but even he
           eventually had
had enough. I found, he said as evening fell,

that it was as well for me to rest on my oars
and wait his reappearing
           as to calculate
                                                   where he would rise.

           is a fundamental pleasure; so is rest.
Sometimes I remember what I read

                                                    and sometimes I forget.