river road trail, south/42nd st, west/44th ave, north
A short run in the afternoon with STA. Lots of bikes, not too many runners or walkers. Talked about being useless and doing useless things as forms of resistance to capitalism (me) and as clever instagram descriptions (STA). Also, I complained about Mother’s Day and how much I dislike “special days” like it or birthdays–partly because my mom is dead, partly because they create unrealistic expectations about what it means to celebrate and be celebrated.
Here’s one of the first poems I read from J. Drew Lanham’s Sparrow Envy last week:
Octoroon Warbler/ J. Drew Lanham
As a taxonomic committee of one,
I alone have decided
that the past transgressions of long ago dead and rotted
bird watchers must be amended.
That it is my sole responsibility—and pleasure—
to right the wrongs
of racist slave-holding artist ornithologists.
of genocidal complicit naturalists.
of grave-robbing skull-fondling phrenologists.
of the lot of white-supremacist men with the
for naming things after themselves.
I hereby declare my solo vote singularly unanimous.
Everything I decide here and now—
So shall it be written. Let it be done.
Word is bond.
My opinions good as any other treaty
signed in the shifting sand of time.
I do hereby exchange, alter or replace
the names of the birds that follow.
Their former identities by patriarchal rule to be expunged.
That they should have new identities
by my demand.
Bachman’s sparrow, denizen of long-leaf pine savannah;
of wiregrass, of fire-kissed sandy ground
shall be once again be
A true great again recovery worthy of celebration!
And whilst I’m releasing species from bondage,
consider the likely forever gone warbler
of the same Charleston preacher’s
can we not do better?
“Swamp Cane warbler,”
appropriately by design of damp dank place
it so chose when still in existence, escaping notice.
I would have suggested “Tubman’s warbler,”
but then why make it any easier to erase blackness
when extinction has already done the job?
LeConte’s Sparrow will hence forward be
The brown-backed secretive skulker
of wet weedy rank with tangled overgrown fields,
hider in thickety traces, deserves better fate than linkage
to a Confederate armorer working
to put in place a permanent apartheid nation.
thrush-esque thing of western slope migration
is now “Up-and-Down Solitaire.”
Mobile altitudinal propensity
taken into full account.
The lemon yellow-headed black and white
western jewel of a warbler
tagged by that same Indian grave-robbing man,
shall now be a “Doug Fir” specifically,
knowing for its tied to evergreen boughs.
No disarticulated Native heads required.
To correct an oversight
of Manifest Destiny,
(and opening the western door to indigenous genocide
behold Clarke’s Nutcracker,
the capacious resourceful intelligent corvid,
given title by the fire-haired Captain of the Corps!
Henceforth shall be York’s Crow.
Designated the first bird so named for a man of color
About damn time the brother got credit
for saving the Corps of Discovery’s always imperiled bacon.
Even as property his contributions went largely
To even the score a bit more
redact the other leader Lewis
from the northern Rockies woodpecker.
He of Trail of Tears Cherokee removal infamy.
Christen the gorgeous picid Sacagawea’s Woodpeecker
As for John James Audobon,
“JJ,” if I might?
He of the posed painted birds,
of ego larger than life to go along
with his Baby Elephant folio.
What does a slave-owning,
man-passing for white might deserve?
What might the demigod of birdome merit
after all these years?
Let his name now be struck.
For malfeasance to humanity.
For being prickish and a generally abhorrent man,
Audubon’s orioles shall be Rio Grande.
The sea-going petrel with the artist’s moniker shall now be
An identity worthy of its tropic-trotting status.
And last but not least, for review
the yellow-rumped warbler of occidental “race,”
occurring beyond the Mississippi to points beyond that.
Since Johnny couldn’t bear the very thought
of interracial miscegenation,
let’s call the butter-butted bird what it is
in hindsight of his own mixed-raced denial.
The Octoroon Warbler.
Thus, I proclaim on this very day,
whenever this ruling shall be read on whatever future date,
that we remember the identity of the birds for what they are,
and never forget the signs of past imperfections too,
to not repeat the hubris of taking good for granted.
But letting creatures have their own names.
No interference from haters required.
An important history of naming that I didn’t know. I looked up Townsend and his warbler and found an article about his grave-robbing: Stealing from the Dead: Scientists, Settlers, and Indian Burial Sites in 19th Century Oregon Also found this: Townsend, John Kirk | Bird Names for Birds. And, found this more general article: A Bird Named for a Confederate General Sparks Calls for Change