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Detail from Downy Woodpecker by John James Audobon

Dear John James Audubon

Dear Mr. Audubon,

I hung suet early this year, not because I was particularly organized but because I was eager for the companionship of birds. I have feeders outside two kitchen windows. When the birds first discover or rediscover these stations, I cede them certain territory. If a bird visits the feeder near the kitchen sink when I’m standing at the sink, I either don’t turn on the water or don’t turn it off. I’m loathe to alter the soundscape, afraid if I spook them they won’t return. I cater to them in this way for a week or so, then slowly resume activities until the birds grow accustomed to my habits of movement and the whistle of the tea kettle.

This morning the vacuum didn’t even bother them, and today when I was washing a carrot I looked into the eye of a downy for more than a minute. Marina Abramovic did this with people – 850,000 of them – for 75 days at MoMA. Visitors came to sit across from her and stare into her eyes. It was allowed. It was art. You can’t do it on the subway. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it with the bird. Maybe I scared him. The eyes of a woodpecker are like silicon nitride balls set inside the rims of little bearings. I might just as well have stared inside the wheel of a skateboard. Do you ever feel that way when you look at all of your dead birds?



Cindy Hunter Morgan is the author of Harborless (Wayne State University Press). She teaches poetry at Michigan State University and heads up communications for MSU Libraries. She loves book arts. cindyhuntermorgan.com…. She recommends the work of Sy Hoahwah.