When To Bird & When To Be Human
Did you ever hear the red-bellied woodpecker give a shrill churr
to any Black birder who was just looking up?
Maybe you’ve heard a Virginia rail’s long sequence of piglike grunts
trail off when in the presence of a Black birder or
you have heard the solitary sandpiper let out its sharp wheet
or its wheet-wheet-wheet upon sighting a birder (Black).
But there was a woman cocksure the American redstarts didn’t want
any Black birders with iPhones taking slo-mo pics in the Ramble
(even if one of them was past president of Harvard’s Ornithological Club);
a woman who believed a common yellowthroat clearly understood
why a jogger-with-unleashed-dog would say please don’t come close to me
or I’ll call the police, scream an African American man is threatening me
& my terrier. But see a sharp-shinned hawk in happy-hover over the birder
(Black) who says, simply, I won’t participate in my own dehumanization—
Lynne Thompson is Los Angeles’ 2021-22 Poet Laureate and a 2022 Poet Laureate Fellow of the Academy of American Poets. She’s the author of three collections of poetry: Beg No Pardon, Start With A Small Guitar, and most recently, Fretwork, winner of the 2019 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize. Thompson sits on the Boards of Cave Canem and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her recent work can be found or is forthcoming in various publications, including Best American Poetry, New England Review, Black Warrior Review, Massachusetts Review, The Common, and Copper Nickel.