Dear Edward Lear
I Love Your Birds
by Jeredith Merrin
The Red and Yellow Macaw resplendent,
And clearly your puff-chested model,
Arching head over the arc of half-extended
Red yellow blue wing, intended us to look.
My first was in kindergarten in Oregon,
A Robin in profile and colored correctly,
But with four four-toed feet. Teacher
Pinned it on the wall, and I was
Humiliated by Open House laughter.
A child who felt, can still often feel wrong.
Hundreds of ornithological lithographs
Beautifully right, but you felt wrong.
Also I love your Salmon Crested
Cockatoo so Parisian-chic,
And your backward-S-necked elegant
But clearly low-IQ Flamingo on one
Foot. Your Toco Toucans and gold-eyed,
Spectacled Owl. All earning scientific,
Artistic respect, polite patronage,
Uppercrust meals, but little money. All
Made before the age of twenty-five.
Birds of course are phallic, though without
Apparent sexual organs, and beaks also,
Like the large noses in your Nonsense books.
Great travelers birds are as you were,
Darting everywhere and making sketches
For imitative formal landscape
Paintings for which you’re not remembered,
Following your odd-shaped nose to
Rome Corsica Corfu Malta Egypt.
In Albania you were pelted, but
In Petra your pockets were rifled. In India
More seizures, in Salonika counting Kestrels.
Is it merely coincidental your name
Rhymes with fear fleer tear queer?
I don’t think so. Bless you because
You “Never,” a biographer tells us,
“Showed any capacity for flattery.”
Sad single man who gladdened children,
The young Charles Pirouet for instance,
Dashing off for his amusement The Light
Green Bird The Pink Bird The Yellow
Bird and thirteen others in your hotel
In northern Italy in eighteen-eighty,
Though nearly blind at sixty-eight.
Are you comfortably nested now in what
You referred to as “the next eggzi stens?”
I don’t think so. But thank god when
You were dying in San Remo, rheumatic
And feeble, one servant for company,
On good days you could be moved to
The little villa’s terrace. It was dim
Spring, with ten new Pigeons trying
To fly from the railing: “a great diversion.”
Agni 44 (1996), pp. 57-58.