We came to study the seagulls.
When our field trip to the sea
didn’t pan out (budget cuts), we caravanned
to the dump, fording through oceans
of crud to see the gulls in their habitat.
Necklaced with binoculars, we monitored
their behavior, scribbled field notes.
It’s true: they’ve learned to slam and shatter
tinned fish like clams against the rocks
and comb through swells of metals,
denuded Christmas trees, tables protruding
like pectoral fins, and even drowning mannequins
for stray crumbs, dabs of meat,
and—best of all—deshelled crabmeat.
When our professor, spying a herring gull,
wandered off, we ditched our binoculars
and played king of the trash heap,
rapiering freshmen with umbrellas. Too late
we turned when the gulls
unburied the creature, when it coughed up
bright ribbons of plastics globbed
with blood; when it shimmied on a belly
bloated by improbable hungers towards us;
when it dressed itself with fruit peels,
a hooked fish, a garnish of glass,
and even its own intestines, a map
looping back to us. Too late
I turned when it curled
eel-slick against me
as if I were its father.
“Ornithology 103” first appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Spring /Summer 2020.