Apparent: the riflebird’s head
heeling over each kimono sleeve,
arced wings now scaffolding
a feathered bandshell,
slash of yellow mouthparts
plastic in the undergrowth,
the throat’s liquid opaline a blue
that seems but never spills.
Harder to see
the super black in the display,
the studded barbules scattering
the low paradisal light, vamping
with a flawless dark richer
than our worst attempts at velvet,
detaching every colour patch—
Laid up in breasts and capes
and crowns of museum study skins,
even sputter-coated with gold,
such feathers come back undusted.
Poet’s Note: This poem uses fragments of this scientific article:
D. McCoy, Feo, T., Harvey, T.A. & Prum, R.O. 2018. Structural absorption by barbule microstructures of super black bird of paradise feathers. Nature Communications. 9.DOI:10.1038/s41467-017-02088-w.
Super-black is the new black [The Atlantic]
EJ Shu is an Australian-Canadian writer of poetry, nonfiction, short stories and libretti. Her most recent poetry appears or is forthcoming in Poets Reading the News, Plum Tree Tavern, Psaltery & Lyre and Cordite Poetry Review. She makes her home on the north west coast of Tasmania.
Photo by Andy Nunn of a bird-of-paradise.