Rynchops niger

The afternoon increases as it wanes
And Skimmers, which are named for what they do,
Fly low above the water where they strain
A living morsel they don’t need to chew.
Their liquid movements and ecstatic cries
Embody what is lingua franca here,
A place where Name and Motion compromise,
That is, a promise of remaining near.

But sea birds have no use for being named
By homo sapiens, ostensibly
In times of greater care for what was framed
When even Man was named more sensibly.
What matters is the movement of the bird.
Its flight is name enough, a substantive
Of verb as noun. They’re like a German word.
Their form and function are their genitive.

While Man went all about acquiring things,
Destroying what he did not understand,
Black Skimmers owned the motion of their wings
As it has been for centuries of sand.
The more we own the less we have to name,
Unlike this bird whose flight defines the sea.
While afternoons increase the more they wane,
Black Skimmers skim oblivious to me.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 20 Number 6, on page 34
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