Poetry Fiction 2008

Bower Bird

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Audio: Hear Caki Wilkinson read this poem aloud

Old news, the midnight warblers worrisome
to introspective bards, the nagging taps
and jugs that left so many haunted, dumb,

behind their coppice gates or chamber doors—
but witness, now, this feathered architect,
a bricoleur, exotic, who ignores

convention, working long before he sings
to gather fragile lumber, sticks and seeds,
although, part larcenist, his favorite things

come from the human world: milk caps or pairs
of pearly buttons once attached to tags;
matchsticks, cigar bands, red synthetic hairs

uprooted from some coconut baboon
or other Florabama souvenir,
stripped screws, receipts, even the jagged moon

of a fingernail still dusty from the Hoover.
And steadfast to the finders-keepers rule,
this passerine Houdini will maneuver

through apertures in transoms, cracks in attics,
encroaching on such odd, forgotten hobbies
as medieval reenactments, numismatics,

Hummels, and paint-by-numbers, hauling back
whatever he can muster, though he’s less
petty crook than kleptomaniac,

since unlike history’s most famous thieves,
Prometheus and Charlie Peace, Capone
and Robin Hood, he’s charmed by gingko leaves

the same as blazing gold, for he equates
the value of a find with how it fits
into the complex structure he creates.

Bizarre, this art, through which he resurrects
a story of disjointed parts, the cause
extracted from his manifold effects—

call it a burnished hut, a self-made cage,
a bachelor pad; in fact, his bower’s nothing
but a vehicle, the decorated stage

where he’s transformed, the undisputed prince
of bric-a-brac, whose solo trill persists
whether or not he has an audience,

his coda rocking walls designed to glisten
yet hardly strong enough to house his hope
those finest plumes, on their high perch, will listen.

Caki Wilkinson is a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati. “Bower Bird” won first prize for poetry in The Atlantic’s 2007 Student Writing Contest.
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