Double-crested Cormorant

Cormorant                                                                         Photo by Mark Seth Lender


Praise Them

The birds don't alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They equal their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We're the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn't hear
what singing completes us?

—Li-Young Lee (b. 1957)

Field Note

Proposition:  IF there are fish, THEN there are Double-crested Cormorants.  Of course, you must be underwater to see the real show. Underwater, they swim like penguins, rainbows of oily bubbles gushing from their feathers. More likely, you will see them on a buoy or a snag or as here, at the top of a dead tree beside a river. These are the places they go to preen and to dry their prehistoric wings.

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"Praise Them" by Li-Young Lee from Book of My Nights. Copyright © 2001 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.