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The Dodo, Ustad Mansur, Agra, 1610

The Dodo, Ustad Mansur, Agra, 1610




For Sarah:  always a conservationist, latterly a twitcher.


In Umbria – the cuore verde of pristine, wooded hills,

Orvieto’s honey-pale wines,

the paintings of Perugino and Pisano,

the Tiber’s milky jade,

tartufo nero

they stew thrush.



At least once in our suburban garden,

house sparrow, green finch, ring-necked dove, wren,

jay, wood pigeon, robin, starling,  swift,  jackdaw, blue tit,

magpie,  blackbird, sparrowhawk, chaffinch, swallow,

gold crest, bull  finch, great tit, hen harrier, mistle thrush

have, variously, courted, mated, nested, birthed, ate, shat,  killed,

bobbed, waddled, hopped, walked, pecked, fluttered, shrieked,

whistled, warbled, squawked and died.



But, above all, sang – that esoteric music,

rich and varied as their plumage:

untutored, uncultivated, unstinting.



Though only crows circle St. Francis’ basilica,

in Cheshire ostriches are farmed.

How accidents of diet, doctrine, sentiment and flag

determine extinction!




© Copyright David Selzer
3 Responses
  • Anne Wynne
    July 29, 2009

    Virtually Birdless in Assisi – I was drawn to this one because I lived in Italy 20 years ago for 10 months and was really chuffed with myself for understanding the Italian in it. Loved the way you flitted from Italy to your garden. Found that first verse very touching about making stew out of birds. I’ll be honest – I didn’t quite understand the ending. Think it means a bird’s lot is determined by its birthplace ( a bit like humans?) But I’m not sure – I’ll have to sleep on it……

  • David
    August 11, 2009


    Your interpretation is absolutely right. Environment not destiny.

  • Elise Oliver
    September 18, 2009


    Have awoken from my summer reveries to begin reading your poems.

    In the first and last verses of this particular poem, you seem to be suggesting that it’s more than the natural ‘environment’ but also the human elements of the ‘environment’ which control survival/non-survival.

    Is this not somewhat sentimental?

    Birds themselves are also indiscriminate in their feeding habits (as are we) and, moreover, they only sing for themselves (as do we).

What do you think?

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