Palinopsia

If I cannot see you / properly, whatever you’re named, / are you still functioning as ode material?

A photo of poet Scheier on a green background.

I confess there’s something lovely about you, red smear
outside the window pecking the fallen grain.
A cardinal or warbler, perhaps. I don’t
give a shit what kind of bird you are.
I haven’t done my research into the red birds
of southern Ontario. Before the accident,
I would have admonished my students
for writing about anything
without doing their homework. I can’t
explain how entirely irrelevant
your name is to me. How to make an image
for the pain of not caring? It’s like the pain
of not caring. I would have told them,
“If you can’t explain, you’re not trying
hard enough, because writing is finding words
for those who claim words fail.”
I’m not trying hard enough. It doesn’t matter
if I was right then. I know only
that writing is like my medication.
It may be stopping me from dying,
which is not the same thing
as keeping me alive. I can’t
explain it better than that,
or I refuse. There’s a language game
we could play over whether
a perception of a flapping red thing
is still a bird. If I cannot see you
properly, whatever you’re named,
are you still functioning as ode material?
Keats’s nightingale flares
and smears, a neurological malady
that dies with him. I watch you, mortal smudge
with the contrast of your deep red feathers
against the green tint of a browning roof,
to admire or despise. To go on (or not go on),
to record your beauty, ugly. I celebrate you,
small red beat, out of protest.

Jacob Scheier
Jacob Scheier's new poetry collection, Is This Scary?, is out in April 2021 from ECW Press.

Fund the journalism we need now

In turbulent times, it is crucial that reliable media remains available to everyone. From vaccine misinformation to political polarization, the challenges our society is facing today are too important for half-truths. If you trust The Walrus, we ask that you consider becoming a monthly supporter. Your donation helps us keep The Walrus’s fact-checked online journalism free to all.

Tusks