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Neil Shepard: Mating Behaviors of Storks, Egrets, Humans

We’re out of love again and wandering
with other birdwatchers over the cedar shakes,
spying on spring nesting sites where great
migrations end and settle into familiar patterns

of rearing and weaning. We’re here 
not so much to learn or unlearn
lessons we don’t already know but simply 
to lose ourselves in observation, in strange

cries and croaks and wattle rattles, in the dusting
of wings with swamp wind, leaves, thistle.
Half of me watches the nesting dance and joust 
of wood storks and egrets, while half my mind

flits to the Ukraine-Russian war half a world away,
the ‘mindless slaughter’, as newsmen say, 
when really, it’s horribly mindful, murderous intent,
artillery flattening the homes of millions, 

the old shashka slicing a path to the Black 
Sea. It’s a human thing that separates me from the wild
life I’m here to see. I see wood storks all concentration
on the moment of their perpetuating. Clattering bills 

clipping the feather fluff of their mates’ necks,
perhaps part of the ritual of their coupling.
I’ve not spoken a kind word all morning
to the one I’ve mated with for life. Nor has she 

turned toward me. Or away from me. Like many of us, 
she maintains a studied neutrality, a learned distance.
Why are we here? To walk the boardwalk’s circuit,
cedar shakes buoying us over the swampy spaces,

letting us bridge the distance between these  
fleshly beings with calculating hearts and minds
and those winged creatures lost in the present
moment of their mating, almost oblivious of us. 


Copyright 2022 Neil Shepard

Neil Shepard’s many books include How It Is: Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry 2018). He edits The Plant-Human Quarterly published by the Otherwise Collective.

White Stork in nest (source: The Conversation)

3 comments on “Neil Shepard: Mating Behaviors of Storks, Egrets, Humans

  1. Judson K Evans
    August 11, 2022

    As a dedicated birder, an ordinary human at 67– still confused about eros and aggression–, and as a lover of poetry, this poem deeply moves me. The balance between the inner world and the fraught, battered outer world is held in such careful balance. The poem asks all the most complex questions but has the grace and humility to leave us to muddle and meander through to ‘live the answers.’ Beautiful Work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. KATHRYN A KELLY
    August 11, 2022

    A stunning poem about the present and eternal predicament, both lovely and disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

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