What We Love
An Apocryphal History of the Discovery of Migration, or The Sacrifice of the Pfeilstörchen
I, wearing heron symmetrically opposed over my chest,
swore to the five emperors that there was no such thing as balance, that if herons upheld
the rivers on all Chinese porcelain it was
simply due to
a locking mechanism in their joints.
they awarded me for risking everything in my defense.
I wrote to you a few years later. I said:
Rostock, sixth of July,
it’s awful of me to interrupt, but I just
need you to understand how certain kinds of wounds can be useful.
I’m finishing up an essay
on pre-modern explanations for bird migration,
and all the species seen since Aristotle’s time as either moon travelers
or sailors that very rarely return.
I even studied a pamphlet from 1703
that argues for the communion of swallows,
that they gather in wetlands
and follow a specific choreography to perch on top of the rushes
until they sink.
they spend winters underwater, in the hypnotic calm of the muck,
and that’s why they emerge so klein damp in spring.
but in 1822 (I carefully attached the photograph),
an arrow pierced the neck of a stork in central Africa
and the bird began its flight bearing both weapon and wound.
when it reached Germany, someone identified the origin of the projectile,
and went on to form a scientific hypothesis.
I don’t remember much more of the letter, except:
pain and brightness are distributed in equal parts,
and lightness only exists because of past excess.
Since it’s the migratory season (I concluded)
I hope you don’t mind if I bypass the formula for farewells—
Atlantic in between us,
every anemone is fluttering along with the currents.
Originally published in Words Without Borders.
Listen to the poem here