Kascha Semonovitch teaches philosophy in Seattle. She holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and a doctorate in philosophy from Boston College. Her poems and critical work have appeared in the Southern Review, the Kenyon Review, Literary Imagination, Crab Creek Review, and other journals. Her philosophical work forcuses on human nature, and she is co-editor of two books of philosophical essays.
Speaking is like putting foreign birds
in our mouths, I say to my niece
who has made it thus far with shrieks
and gesture. We must learn language.
I take her reluctant hand. Let’s begin
with a parakeet. I manipulate her jaw
and when she opens, I put the green
opaline bird on her baby tongue.
Feathers and disaster. We re-try with
something simple: “Sparrow.” Grey
and brown and eventually more familiar.
But no sound.
We go for a walk days later. Heron! She retreats
and raises an arm in awe. But the bird is too big
for words. We go farther and then return
to watch the ones at the feeder: cardinal,
wren, cruel crow, crazy pigeon, interrupting squirrel,
lazy dove. Some words fit like pelicans, I explain:
not at all. Some are as elegant on the page as flamingoes
in flight, and silly when they walk alone. Others
are defunct penguins. I try to draw the shapes, the black
field-guide profiles we identify them with. But
it was the Indigo Bunting –
All at once in an unnamed park,
with a loose fit field with just enough even, dry grass,
the Indigo Bunting!
and the need to identify
what she has seen, burst out with the pressure of wings