Mark Doty
A poem from SCHOOL OF THE ARTS













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omar.jpg


SIGNAL
















LOST COCKATIEL, cried the sign, hand-lettered,

taped to the side of a building: last seen on 16th

 

between Fifth and Sixth, gray body, orange cheek patches,

yellow head. Name: Omar. Somebody's dear, I guess,

 

though how do you lose a cockatiel on 16th Street?

Flown from a ledge, into the sky he's eyed

 

for months or years, into the high limbs of the ginkgos,

suddenly free? I'm looking everywhere in the rustling

 

globes and spires shot through with yellow,

streaking at the edges, for any tropic flash of him. Why

 

should I think I'd see him, in the vast flap this city is?

Why wander Chelsea when that boy could be up and gone,

 

winging his way to Babylon or Oyster Bay,

drawn to some magnet of green. Sense to go south?

 

Not likely; Omar's known the apartment and the cage,

picked his seeds from a cup, his fruits and nuts from the hand

 

that anchored him -- and now he's launched, unfindable,

no one's baby anymore but one bit…

 

Think of the great banks of wires and switches

in the telephone exchange, every voice and signal

 

a little flicker lighting up -- that's Omar now,

impulse in the propulsive flow. Who'll ever know?

 

Then this morning we're all in the private commuter blur

when a guy walks into the subway car whistling,

 

doing birdcalls: he's decked in orange and lime,

a flag pluming his baseball cap; he's holding out a paper cup

 

while he shifts from trills to caws. Not much of a talent,

I think, though I like his shameless attempt at charm,

 

and everybody's smiling covertly, not particularly tempted

to give him money. Though one man reaches into his pocket

 

and starts to drop some change into the cup,

and our Papageno says, "That's my coffee, man,

 

but thanks, God bless you anyway,"

and lurches whistling out the door.