Author’s Note: “We live in a migratory center for several of nature’s long-distance flyers, most famously the monarch butterfly, the subject of an earlier poem of mine. In 2016, I read a newspaper article about the Godwit, a bird that travels almost non-stop to South America after hatching in Canada’s Hudson Bay and visiting our shores for food and rest. No one knows how it does this. As a retired brain surgeon, poet and forty-year Chesapeake sailor, I was naturally drawn to the Godwit as a poetic subject.”
—Old English for good creature (god wihte)
The godwit somehow finds its way right out of the shell,
leaves Hudson Bay for thousands of miles before
he vacations in South America for the winter.
I’ve seen him in June and July—
his stilted feet and upward curving beak digging after shells
in Chesapeake mud, a small pile driver on legs.
Never in doubt he wheels through the skies over the Bay
on wings of certainty without GPS,
an entire scheme of our planetary hemisphere
laid out in his brain better than any sea captain’s chart.
From where he starts to where he’s never been
the godwit crosses latitudes and longitudes without a stop
for more than brief meals, ingests geography unconsciously
in a machine smaller than an acorn, makes a perfect trip
my wrong-footedness could never achieve.
Far from the start of my own journeys I may drift off-line
towards absolute certainty, mistaking my freedom
as opportunity, seeing life as a door not a trap.
Michael Salcman is a Maryland poet, physician and art historian. He is former chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum. His poems appear in Arts & Letters, The Café Review, Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, New Letters, Poet Lore, and Delmarva Review. Poetry books include The Clock Made of Confetti, The Enemy of Good is Better, Poetry in Medicine, and his popular anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness & healing, A Prague Spring, Before & After, winner of the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize, and Shades & Graces: New Poems, inaugural winner of The Daniel Hoffman Legacy Book Prize (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020).
Delmarva Review is a national literary journal with strong regional roots. Publishing compelling new prose and poetry annually, the Review is an independent, 501(c)(3) journal, supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. It is sold in paperback and electronic editions from Amazon.com and other major online booksellers and specialty regional bookstores. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.