Vocabulary Required to Describe the Arctic Tern
We need extraordinary words
as strong and delicate as carpal bones:
the life described in flight, in distance
so vast that every year is double-summered.
In the North, the wintering grounds
cover islands hardly more than rocks.
They would continue unnamed,
except for our obsessive need
to fix the world on paper.
A migratory species. Offshore,
the lights of my city run together.
Half-asleep, I think I can push out the plane window
with one palm, that instead
of air-rushed death, I could swallow-dive,
invulnerable, to the sea's shock. It would be cool
on my hot face. I could stretch my limbs.
We thought the Arctic tern
It is remote. It meanders
along prevailing winds.
Dip, curve, cut
and soar: its wings
describe the air, an invisible cartography
of energy and weight. We chart
its circumpolar habits, numb our envy
with Latin terms. My plane
flies steadily between flashing dots
on radar screens, between seasons, making
no concession to the wind; from summer