Birds of Detroit


I came to visit my friend.
      In Detroit, Steve said, a street
kid might stop you with a gun
      in hand and say "Check it in"
which means he wants your wallet,
      your coat, or your life. I thought,
in Detroit you might see a
      few sparrows pecking at things
in the gutter, or a lone
      crow drifting over traffic.
You might imagine buzzards
      staring from windows above
you as you hold on to your
      life and hand over your coat
and wallet. Downtown, alone,
      you might notice stacked cages,
parakeets someone forgot
      to feed on the back wall at
Woolworth's, or imagine the
      people who love like pigeons,
wingless in the alley on
      the other side of the wall.
You might find yourself watching
      a cockatiel languishing
in the smoky pink light of
      a strip joint, or a parrot
chained to his bar-perch swaying
      from side to side saying Hey
buddy into a mirror.

Hey buddy, Steve said, let's go
      see the city. So we drove
around the neighborhoods, saw
      the statue of the Pope in
Hamtramck, lunched at Zukin's
      Deli, shopped La Comena
(beehive) in the barrio.
      On Belle Isle we walked in wind
between countries, Canada
      to the south, saw buffleheads,
canvasbacks, and goldeneyes
      on the river riding waves
steadfastly into the wind.
      We talked of the past and the
way time and work had moved us
      to different cities. Mallards
dabbled in cold winter ponds,
      and Canada Geese grazed in
a field beyond a chain link
      fence. One goose wore a Coke can
on its neck like a collar.

In the parking lot a man
      fed Wonder Bread to the gulls.
His family watched from an old
      Chevy wagon, rusted out
at the fenders. He tore off
      a piece and threw it into
the wind where a gull caught it
      and whelled away to swallow
as another circled in
      to catch the next piece. Around
and around they went, a gear
    made of gulls to turn the kids
tame until all the bread was
    gone and the man let the sack
slip from his hand into the wind.


Greg Pape, Storm Pattern, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.