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The Scarlet Ibis 


Native to rubber


Its wingspan, ten feet.

I judge it


from tail

to beak

a yawning meter

of solid appetite.


Its name derived

from the Persian

for “lavish depiction

of sex and deceit,”


heavy and surreal

in flight,


over pics of starlets


in dishabille,


of the flashbulb’s light,

a rabid fan of TMZ.


This bird’s

a fisher

after page-views:

The sweetest nectar


of nipple slips

and baby bumps.

If it can’t have



the edenic light

of being news—

it will take

the trending specter


of tinseltown


the social threshing

that gossip




and feverish

in its treetop home,



for the umpteenth

time the page,

it weeps


false tears (like

a crocodile),

and sublimates

its rage.

Maureen Thorson

levelheaded: The Scarlet Ibis


Maureen Thorson’s “The Scarlet Ibis” begins with laying out encyclopedic facts about a large wading bird. In line four, the speakers says “I judge it” and goes on to describe the colorful bird colorfully as “a yawning meter / of solid appetite.” This phrase, “I judge it,” instructs us that the poem is not merely a description of a particular type of bird, but also a judgement of the type of person that bird is compared to—the scantily clad “desirous / of the flashbulb’s light, / a rabid fan of TMZ.”


Thorson’s clever word choices (fawning, rabid, nectar, edenic) allow her to describe people in terms that also can connote birds. When Thorson writes “This bird’s / a fisher” she’s also saying This type of woman is fishing for “page-views.” At other times, she is even more explicit in making her comparison. While “[t]he sweetest nectar” can apply to birds or people “nipple slips / and baby bumps” are terms that are pretty exclusive to our human-crafted tabloids.


That humans distort the simple, natural, beautiful world in their quest for “celebrity” seems central to Thorson’s piece. Adam and Eve became “news” not for blending into the background. They shone in the “edenic light” because of their spectacle. Like the bird whose name “‘derived / from the Persian / for ‘lavish depiction / of sex and deceit,’” people today build on their earliest ancestors’ legacy with their quest for fame.


By the poem’s end, accurately describing the literal scarlet ibis is not nearly as important as  capturing the nature of the fame obsessed human. “[T]rending” and “tinseltown / divorces” are modern day human concerns, and birds aren’t even capable of “refreshing / for the umpteenth / time the page.” The inverted syntax here places particular weight on the word “time”—a man-made construct to which, in many ways, we alone are beholden to.


It’s hard to guess what causes the “rage” that some people attempt to distract themselves from with “false tears,” in large part because the possibilities are so many. Maybe we’re so pissed because time is against us. Maybe the anger stems from the fact that others are rich and beautiful, that someone else is getting all the attention. Maybe we’re mad because Adam and Eve doomed us from the outset, or because we know deep down that the quest for fame is a shallow one. Seeking fame turns our beautiful bird-like spirits ugly as tears on a crocodile.



– The Editors