A Portrait of the Pelican

When gobbling, this bird will snake mazurkas / with syncopated throat.

A black-and-white photo of the poet, Eric Ormsby, who is a white-haired man wearing glasses and a collared shirt. The background is blue.

The pelican upon Miami’s pier
lofts his gullet in cadenzas
and poses as if to yodel,
Arawakan in extended silhouette.
His fellows hunch like tchotchkes on credenzas
in rococo living rooms; they peer
with dimly lidded, idly anecdotal
pupils; and when they defecate, they pirouette
with senatorial finesse and sleek-billed smiling,
each almost daintily upon his personal piling.

When gobbling, this bird will snake mazurkas
with syncopated throat.
Then the ranks of pelicans resemble Gurkhas
in the last days of the Raj; the rote
parade ground of a tallowed attitude
swivels them in synchronized salute.
And each pouched patriarch’s solicitude
rivets the tourists who lob scraps of skate
the pelicans glove like catchers at home plate.

Have I addressed the majesty of the pelican?
His boomerang-curved wingspan or the Scythian
silver of his knobbed, heraldic claws?
Have I, encomiast of maws,
alluded to the almost Mephistophelean
snicker of malice that the Florida species
looses as he splashes you with fishy feces?
Have I mentioned that this soporific sentinel
possesses a gravitas that’s quite millennial?

Mackerel supplicant, I honour my pelicanic
monarch on his pedestal
of pier. His eye looks messianic,
pivot attentive, almost evangelical,
to swoop on littoral fiddler crabs of writ.
If I proffer a fish head, he will study it,
the way a gourmet eyes a suspect sauce,
with taste buds all aquiver for the counterfeit—
then he grins and gapes and gullets down my toss.

Eric Ormsby
Eric Ormsby is a professor at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, UK. His poetry appears widely, in such magazines as The New Yorker and The Paris Review.