Fall 2005 • Vol. XXVII No. 4 Poetry |

Snake Bird

after William Bartram, 1776 All over Florida, there is a curious species they call the snake bird. Is it on Chinese screens or in some India pictures that I have seen one? Some kind of cormorant or loon, it seems, but far more beautiful: head and neck are slender, the latter long, almost out of proportion. The feathers, glossy as a raven's, yet resemble scales, the long tail spread like a lady's fan tipped silvery white. Over lakes and rivers they soar in the heat. Over still waters, on the limbs of trees, they sit, wings open, I suppose to cool themselves as they behold their reflection below. When we approach, they drop into the water as if dead and are not seen until the slender head and neck appear at a distance, looking like nothing so much as a snake. No other part of the body is seen but the tip of the tail. Its flesh smells so strongly of fish that it is best not eaten, I have discovered, unless one is constrai

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DEBORA GREGER’s most recent book of poetry is Western Art, published by Penguin in fall 2004.

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after William Bartram, 1776 All over Florida, there is a curious species they call the snake bird. Is it on Chinese screens or in some India pictures that I have […]

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