This poem is conversational

that is, discursive, 
more call than song, 
less art than documentary, like the one 
my wife and I are watching about the kākāpō: 
some famous zoologist and Stephen Fry 
headed to Codfish Island to study 
these odd parrots, which gave up flight 
simply because they had no need to fly, 
no danger to fly from until people arrived 
with rats and dogs and other predators 
the silly birds still don’t know enough to run 
from (according to the doco), which is why 
we’ve turned Codfish Island into a mammal-free 
Eden of trees and bush, hence Fry et al. 
winging their way there— 
except high winds first force their plane 
to land on Stewart Island, which turns out 
to be a useful metaphor for the way 
a conversation can be: the gusts 
and sudden turns, the meandering away 
from where you began, which in turn 
is a useful metaphor for the way life can be, 
even if you are Stephen Fry— 
or so it seems to me, collapsed on the couch 
in front of the television after 
our daughter’s fourth birthday party 
(fairy theme), during which in fact 
we had been subject to more wind, 
cooler temperatures and less sunshine 
than suggested by the optimistic forecasts. 
It nearly pushed us into the house, but we 
pushed back, like Fry and his zoologist, 
hosted the party in the park 
where we’d intended, amid the trees, 
in what the invitation called 
the enchanted forest, by the swings, 
climbing frames, flying fox, 
a success despite some shouting 
and complaints and cliques forming, 
four years being about when the kids start 
to stop being the kids you thought 
they might be and start being the kids they are, 
though who you are changes, of course: 
a friend observed that half the parents 
were expats, from the States or France 
or South Africa or the UK. Honestly, 
I hadn’t noticed. The discursive line 
of our lives had turned in this direction, 
only our accents suggesting each of us 
once had been something else 
before mortgages, house projects— 
another dad and I had a long, winding 
conversation whose beginning is largely 
obscure but which ended with paint removal— 
and little people who need a juice box 
and who, wandering out of view 
beyond the garden setting of the park— 
four being about when they start to move 
away from where they think you are— 
must be chased down because, though no one 
says it, there are dangers more predatory 
than the flying fox, four insufficiently evolved 
to recognize certain hazards when they approach 
with a hungry grin. But no such fears came 
to fruition, of course, and the happy squeals 
of the girls are what I recall as Fry 
and his famous zoologist track down 
a hapless kākāpō to photograph in its element 
the way we followed our daughter in hers, 
around the park, to get a shot that was not blurry 
or blocked by a mom or another kid. 
I’m too tired now to even think of looking 
at the photographs, so I stay sprawled 
on the couch as Fry and the famous zoologist 
pick up the parrot, stroke its soft feathers, 
speak soothingly as you would to a child 
fallen off a swing or bar or ladder, 
as one girl or another fell, then, refuelled 
by pink frosting, recovered, escaped 
the comforting arms of her parent, 
to climb in her useless fairy wings 
farther and farther, only the odd 
backward glance, origins tending 
to remain visible, if vestigial. 

Bryan Walpert is the author of three collections of poems, Native Bird (Hoopla series, Mākaro Press, 2015), A History of Glass, a finalist in the Stephen F. Austin State UP award (SFA Press, 2011), and Etymology (Cinnamon Press, 2009), as well as a book of short stories, Ephraim’s Eyes (Pewter Rose Press, 2010), named a Best Book of 2010, and a scholarly monograph, Resistance to Science in Contemporary American Poetry (Routledge, 2011). His work has won the James Wright Poetry ward from the Mid-American Review and first prize in the NZ Poetry Society International Competition, as well as being shortlisted for key North American awards, including the Montreal Poetry Prize. He is an Associate Professor of creative writing at Massey University.

Walpert comments: ‘In Native Bird, I play with “call” and “song”, the former a proxy for prose, the latter for poetry. So I enjoyed making some of the prose pieces lyrical and some of the verse, as in this poem, discursive. I often tell my students not to stick too closely to the facts when writing poetry, but in this case the poem presents events very much as they happened. Of course, the distinction between art and documentary at the start is an unfair one, and I hope the poem by the end gives the lie to its own premise.’

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Bryan Walpert’s website
Bryan Walpert’s Massey University staff website