Issue 23: Mark Lawlor
Notes of a Physiologer
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.