from "Dead Birds : A Meditation"

It is because the children of the empire
are not suckled by the wolf
that they are conquered and displaced
by the children of the northern forests
who are adept in mathematics from perpetual practice
& prefer either flocks of relaying flocks
or those infamous contraptions
like Icarus' : the poem becomes a way
of violating the laws, of cupping past
& present contiguously in the hand
(a place not on any map). Wandering means
only one more step O sweet field far ahead
I hear your birds : omens
which even now fly out of my hand

Animals are defined less
by the abstract notions of genus and species
than by a capacity for being affected
by the excitations to which they react
within the limits of their capability
the silky warble runs in the yellow throat
birds in hillside abide
orioles call beyond the blind as the moon
sinks - 500 miles - into dawn
on a trotting horse in dead winter
I trembled at the sight
of guardians holding the light
of a hundred years ago

Vegetation occurs only as an explanatory accessory
the reed is introduced to mark the course of the river
or the tree to mark the covert of the wild beast
or the ambush of the enemy. It is often said of a man
that his work is autobiographical in spite of every
subterfuge. Many of the birds that spend their summers
in Hartford spend their winters in Caracas
birds sway, rashes migrate across the surface
the old idea of 'talent' must of course be abandoned
& the legend of the creative 'fecundity' of
the artist who lays three eggs today, one tomorrow
& none on Sunday. On the small and remote islands
of Darwin & Wolf ground finches alight on the backs
of large seabirds of the genus Sula & peck at the feather roots
on the wings & tail, drinking the blood that flows out
the vampire finches also crack open the eggs of seabirds
by pushing them against rocks. On these rejectamenta
the young are born

Tony Tost is the author of Invisible Bride (LSU Press 2004). Recent work can be found in Verse, The Hat, LIT, Effing Magazine and Typo.