Issue 23: Mark Lawlor

Notes of a Physiologer

        For Ágnes

In cafe no. 9 under a giclée print

of a pelican, due to horny crest on

upper mandible of bill, a male,

an American white, his pouch

golden,made in watercolour,

by J. J. Audabon, printed 1827-38.

The bird will not leave me alone.

Even to grab a coffee. ‘I shall go forth

during the day to every place I wish to go.’

(I stoop to feel the feathered back.)

In the underworld of night

he gives me safe passage.

Audubon’s father scooped a false

passport for his son to shun conscription

during the Napoleonic wars. Packed

him off to the new world with a mind

on bullets. (He hoped lead mines

would make his son a fortune). General store

owner is the young Audubon, his eye

out not only for bargains but ornithology

and painting. ‘While I was at Mr. Bulow’s,

his Negro hunter waded after one (pelican)

whose wing had been broken.’ Audubon himself

owned slaves and he noticed how pelicans

made ‘good food by the sons of Africa.’

I pray now the pelicans protect

me from snakes. Squadrons of sacred birds,

kept in solar temples, their long beak

must be long enough to reach down

the tomb shaft. Pelicans are also mummies

and must clear the way of hostiles.

They waddle with crucified wings

over a pool in the estuary. Jung has told

bold Joyce that he, Joyce, dives into the river

but Lucia, his daughter, drowns. Lucia falls

into the Nile, the Amazon, Thames, Shannon,

on the sand-bars of the Ohio, the Hudson,

the Mississippi, where the pelican bobs

up, air sacks in its bones. It leaps up in the

Irish Blood Transfusion service, in the escutcheon

of Corpus Christi Colleges, as the National

bird of Romania, State bird of Louisiana,

in pelican books, pelican torch, stage wear,

pelican case, rouge coffee, (here I think of cafe 9),

underwear, bib, crossing, pelican pens, eraser, computer,

briefs, diner, basketball, pelican female

healthcare, jazz, Jack’s, knives, lamps,

pelican state credit union, pump, prints,

(here I think of cafe 9 )

yoga mat, kayaks, pelican beer, whisky,

hats, field desks, pelican spiders,

pelican story – home ware, brewing,

scissors, aircraft, pelican quilts, ships,

tattoos, engineering, sea watchdog.

Thank you, pelican, for surfing the net

with me. Your nostrils don’t work

and you have a little tongue.

Juan Manuel de Ayala maps out

San Franscisco bay and the English

read the map incorrectly and call ‘the rock’

Alcatraz, meant for Yerba Buena, where all

the pelicans take wind and fly. Strange

bird shapes glide away. Alcatraz, an Arabic term

for a water carrying vessel likened to the

gular- pouch of a pelican. The Spanish crew

look on the flight of white boomerangs. The English,

meanwhile, go on with the corruption

of Alcatraz there comes Albatross and rimed

their way over seas, made a garland

of goonie birds to place on the unwise.

Albatross is a three under par golf score

on a long hole, and I must wait wait wait

on my father to drive off on his hole and clear

the fairway. Phillip, my father, gave me a little

black book which I now open on Leviticus,

Deuteronomy and Psalms, I am like a pelican

of the wilderness. Yes, I find you here, your colony.

What’s with this ‘standing on eggs’ ? Some way

to bring up children! I prefer, in my unthinking state,

you in your piety, a Vulning of your own breast

to feed your young. Stab and stab with your bill

till blood comes and the cannibalistic

young devour your flesh. Thomas Aquinas

in his Adoro te Devote, a Eucharistic hymn,

says: Lord Jesus, Good pelican, wash my

filthiness and clean me with your blood.

Dante knew Christ as what was to him ‘our’ pelican.

Physiologus, a Christian text,

written in the second century AD,

has the pelican offend her breast

for her young and symbolises the passion

of Jesus Christ and the Eucharist. They stand,

kneel, in the image of blood. The church holds the tunnel

of their look and blasts them through the image

of bloody birds, clicks into being as they take the Eucharist.

You, pelican, who we do not touch,

are an amazing bird. You swoop the air

like 1950s fighters. These movements

performed for the purpose of assisting

their digestion and airing themselves in

the higher and cooler regions of the atmosphere,

were taken as evidence of UFOs. Sunlight

on wingspan after moving wingspan. Your relative

is the smoky blue shoebill, who shits himself

to stay cool. Clog dance, you bow, I bow, you bow, etc.

Shakespeare mentions the pelican

in Hamlet, King Lear, and Richard II,

here you are given the self-wounding

touch for young that are alive. Or again an older

story of your sprinkle with blood -

the dead young so they may re-live.

A stretch of pelicans winds down on

the foam water. Keep cool by fluttering

your gular pouch, rife with blood vessels and veins.

The mouth of a pelican is opened for me. A million

birds died during BP’s deepwater horizon

spill on the twentieth of April two thousand

and ten. A thirty million year old skull

of a pelican was found in the oligocene

deposits in France. Pelicans will always be.

Look, they fly over London, and other towns!

Their sound the double squeak of an open

door as I leave cafe no. 9.

Mark Lawlor's poems recently appeared in Cyphers Magazine 88, and The Moth 39.

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Lawlor, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.