The Little Bunting

 In Poems
(Last Updated On: January 5, 2018)

I live in the facial expression of the other, as I feel him living in mine.
—Maurice Merleau-Ponty

by Tim Kahl

This little bunting in its call to prayer, to play, to feast,
strings its song along the hard wire thrust into
its core. It operates in its architecture of feedback.
It mirrors the microintervals I can’t hear;
I miss the speech, but I glean the music,
some kind of emotional contaminant that
makes me respond in kind, an automatic
mimic, apprentice to the bird brain.
Could song really be another mental state?

I ask this little bunting in lieu of the philosophers
how it measures each reflected note with an act.
Its inner mirror teaches it to fly.
It charts its course on an impulse graph
the way I might anticipate a feeling’s
sneak attack induced by a mutual gaze.
Here comes the speaker’s eyes at me,
the cue I’m supposed to wait, not speak.
I listen and inhibit my chatter.
I listen to this little bunting’s song as it
reconfigures the muscle tone of my face.

The ortolan bunting returns from Africa in spring to resume its foraging
for oats. Its song is said to have inspired Beethoven’s opening for his
Symphony No. 5. The rolling hills in Switzerland are torched to restore
its habitat. It’s a return to an old farming practice that has long gone out of use.
The tendency to imitate others is linked to the ability to empathize with
them, to sit down in their intentions and knit them together.

This little bunting shows me my autism with birds,
my transcranial failure. My flight is a false start
from falling out of trees to take my place among
the apes. Who knows if a gorilla can sing, if the only
music it hears in the trees is made by the wind?
This little bunting pronounces me its initiate.
My mirror shines back the spark shooting across
the bird’s hard wire. Cogito ergo sum becomes:
You act. I react the same, then feel and finally
think; therefore I am because I empathize.

Empathy spreading like a creeping vine,
I infer the minor third from this little bunting
as it sings through my inner filament and
bounces back to feed a frenzy of voices
organized around their outputs
in this age of screens where everyone
has difficulty keeping anything in mind.

Tim Kahl [] is the author of Possessing Yourself (Word Tech, 2009) and The Century of Travel (Word Tech, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also the co-editor of Clade Song . He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He currently houses his father’s literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann’s book of photos of Chile, 1932.


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