Native it seems to no part
of the North American continent
but some islets off
the rugged scarps of the Aleutians
in the loose entablatured cliffs
among dwarf-willow tips.
Known if at all by its silhouette
(we can know such things by their silhouettes)
the red-legged kittiwake
glimpsed in isolate parts of Oregon
California and southern Nevada
said to go silent in winter
slitting through snow
the red-legged kittiwake.

The red of the red-legged kittiwake
of a kinship with black
solders across the ice-gaps.
Native in no real part
but its obdurate course the red-
legged kittiwake goes silent.
We can know still more by rips
through the weed.
Red-legged kittiwake
gone back in the brain toward
noise of the narrowing ship-lanes.

Silver bones of the wrist
in their riggings rotate.
Pulp of the madder-root
shocked in white alum then soaked
through the wool for the waistcoat.
The frigate sprays back gray rime
cuts through the ice-skirt
pursuing such things
to the knit of the nest.

Crowberry swollen with fog
lichen resist on the lowest
spokes of the spruce
red-legged kittiwake
native to no part
alone in its parts

Kelp closes up
where the bird has just been

The legs retract in the pan
of the tail near the crotch
against the streaked ruff
bits of the barbs in breakage
out in the vanes
tipped into place
leaf of the willow tipped into 
its branch the tip but tip to its whole

So where does it go when gone.
The wake of the factory ships.
Its chevrons compound the steep bluffs
it makes itself into those ranks
like pistons or books.
Its numbers are known to be in decline.
Is red for the advent
of sex or something more plain. 

The sea works its surface.
Notched and convex.
It gives up its force in forms it must make.
It has a grease shine.
It is where they go when gone isn't it
through the known parts


From Micrographia. Copyright © 2009 by Emily Wilson. Used with permission of The University of Iowa Press.