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A Tale of Two Birds

Bird shit? If there are to be birds, if there is to be the beauty of birds, there’s going to be bird shit on your safari hat. Owl shit hits with a plop of tiny bones and down. You wash it off your life and get on to the beauty.

Fact is, a lot of us are having shitty days, some shittier than others. Plus holiday stresses. And maybe the heavy emotional whammies of Solstice with cancer, or Christmas without your father for the first time, or Hanukah with the threat of expiring unemployment benefits.

Enter the beautiful bird in the photograph above, the secretary bird of East Africa that Roger and I saw one morning on the Maasai Mara in western Kenya. Beauty.

I remember her, too, in a poem these three months later. Her tale is in the form of a tanka (five lines of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables, another gift like haiku and haibun from the Japanese), a form I chose to mimic her crown feathers.


African feathers

fanned, forming her white headdress—

secretary bird—

Serengeti’s adornment

of savannah most holy.

Roger and I remember what it was to behold her timeless beauty…beauty to be shared with friends, family, fans, fellow travelers – and you, my readers. Beauty to alleviate -- if only for a moment -- your private pains of heart, mind and spirit.

(If you would like to immerse yourself in more African beauty, by all means, go to my latest Shutterfly photo book at and let beauty amaze you.)


I am the other bird in this tale of two, a snowbird mated to a snowbird nesting happily in Florida condoland with wildlands close by…and every day the Caloosahatchee River flowing past our lanai where we watch the boats go by, watch sunrises, watch moonrises.

But it isn’t all a birds-of-paradise life. On our annual mecca to my holy land, the Everglades, our Florida Bay campsite handed us a plague of whining salt mosquitos where we were expecting egret beauty. Deet means nothing to them. Instead, we smeared blood all over the tent walls – my blood in tiny swollen skeeter bellies. We didn’t stay a second much less a third planned night. I counted 26 bites in a few short hours. Yet we survived, of course, to laugh about our suffering through allergic reactions and fear. And, as we departed the national park, we took time, dodging egret shit, to see the beauty of my angel of the morning rising over the River of Grass.

There was also a certain recent Saturday night we spent in the ER at Cape Coral Hospital, driven there in a panic due to a sharp spike in Roger’s blood pressure. He came out of it just fine, and is now in the care of a local physician who’s keeping an eye on him.

In the end, the snowbirds who are lovebirds try to keep the focus on beauty, all expletives deleted.

As you-know-what it can be, our eye turns to hawk, shrike, heron – any bird in sight for its beautiful healing spirit, which I share with you via a poem in the form of a skink (one of my five-line jobbies, if you recall).


I know precisely what it is to fall

under the spell of Florida’s full moon

too soon waning toward winter solstice

going as the amber river goes.

I fully understand Floridian moonlight is spelled o-w-l.


May you celebrate the new year with beauty. In any form.

Karla Linn Merrifield has had 1000+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies, including throughout the UK. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. She is currently at work on a poetry collection, My Body the Guitar, inspired by famous guitarists and their guitars; the book is slated to be published in December 2021 by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications Holograph Series (Rochester, NY). Web site:; blog at

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