Golden Book of Birds

Elizabeth Willis
Birds on building
Photo by Lin Yu Xin

The pleasure of order 

into the pleasure 
of the mess 

If you see something

it’s not a gift
it’s a request 

To know 
who is with you 

in the current 

The least sand-

the greater

To be continuous
is inhuman 

It is inhuman
to be a specimen 

to locate 
your picture 

in someone else’s 

The common 

the chimney 
swift: black- 

and white-throated
The ovenbird 

says teacher

The easiest song
is not “America” 

The pine grosbeak
is really pink  

really a finch 

I fix upon 
the wood duck

as if it were a button
and I an open velvet mouth 

and more than one 

Aggregate is 
a kind of stone  

that describes itself
Slate-colored junco 

A mind can cut through 
almost anything 

A god with whom 
you’ll never win 

Bobolink, meadowlark

You have to
hide your love away 

like the hulk
or a flying nun 

A capital letter
on the highest thing 

An open secret
is neither one 

This is what you see

flying over California
in a habit 

Protestors surrounding 
the police 

who are trying 
to surround them  

This is how
the crow flies 

This is where I kick
what I need out of reach 

while I scroll
for a song 

The flourishing

builds its

A screech owl has 
no nest in particular 

of paper
or of brush 

Struck by lightning

a man’s heart
becomes a new thing 

a proper location
for a needle and thread 

Even a girl can make 
a house or a coffin 

out of cardboard 
and string 

a nail, a piece of cork

Who can think
of immortality 

The whip-poor-will

its evening dress

The passage
not the outcome 

Magpie, kingfisher 

As seen from outer space
the greatest poem 

looks like nothing
at all 

The part of living
that is forgiveness 

is not continuous

I don’t want 
to hate the cowbird 

Even Charlton Heston
saying Sweet Jesus  

while he contemplates 
the stars 

among the falconers 
of the Magreb 

where we may or may not be
on location at this time  

flying in the shadow
that is “only the beginning” 

Here I am passing
a semi full of chickens 

This is me buying 
an expensive machine  

then trying to teach it

with my voice
how to be human 

on our way
to the doctor

by the king of glory

I miss you
as if I’m talking  

to the moon’s sweet

to the tree on fire

beneath the central

I know it’s 
out there 


as a pigeon
or a dove

Elizabeth Willis is the author of Alive: New and Selected Poems (New York Review Books, 2015). Her previous books of poetry include Address (2011), Meteoric Flowers (2006), Turneresque (2003), and The Human Abstract (1995).