For Stephen Wiltshire
He has two days to bring
all of London to life,
two days and thirty pens.
"The human camera,"
or so he’s been dubbed,
draws from memory:
one jaunt in a helicopter
over New York, Berlin or Rome,
and the metropolis,
in all of its perspectival glory,
passes into art.
"Savant," says the neurologist;
"automaton," claims the art historian.
Skill without animating vision,
without discernible feeling…
To elude predators
the inking cephalopod releases
a diffuse cloud
of dark pigment, which it then disperses
with a jet of water.
Stephen’s pen works like this—
call it hippocampal subterfuge.
The crowd in the museum
has come to gawk
at the effete spectacle:
a working-class black man
turned robotic scrivener.
What the audience
doesn’t understand is that Stephen
has already swum away;
in his place a more substantial
cloud of blackened mucus,
a spectral Houdini.
* * *
VOGELS: DRAWING BY ARTIST DAVID BARTH, AGE 10, 2008**
after Eduardo Corral
1. Who needs water with so many wings?
2. A Dewey Decimal System for feathers.
3. The librarian in the trees says, "Quiet!"
4. "I felt an intimacy with [birds]…bordering on frenzy [that] must accompany my steps through life." –John James Audubon.
5. Bird shit: a Malthusian catastrophe.
6. To go out on a limb.
7. I would like to be a pelican, I think, because penguins are much too theological.
8. With my eyes I scoop fish from the air.
9. Must love always be a form of taxidermy?
10. Audubon tied yarn to the legs of the Eastern Phoebe and thereby discovered that it nested in the same place every year.
11. Ornithologists call this bird banding.
12. I call it autism, or as the experts like to say dismissively perseveration.
13. Let us persevere with detail.
14. The yellow beak, the red beak, the brown beak, the black beak.
15. With my eyes I scoop fish from the air.
16. The world is not a zoo.
17. Nor is it an aviary.
18. Nor a dictionary.
19. When Nadia, an autistic savant, learned to speak, she lost her drawing skills.
20. At three she had rivaled Vermeer.
21. Does diversity have a call number?
22. The librarian in the trees says, "Quiet!"
23. To go out on a limb.
24. No duckling is ever ugly.
25. Say a prayer for David.
26. In autism categories do not wish to rule the world.
27. Rather, they attend; they procreate.
28. Like rabbits.