Four Poems by Jeredith Merrin


The Barn Owl

(Tyto alba)

Though it roosts in abandoned
factories or barn-lofts,
this mid-sized, widespread

owl with dramatic, white, heart-
shaped facial disc is not
a human emblem—

its characteristic call
a penetrating shree,
feeding on voles, mice,

the occasional small bird;
summer nights hunting from
sundown to dawn, low-

flying, hovering on long,
sound-absorptive wings. Still,
met, of a sudden

—pale mask floating in full dark—
you might well mistake it
for a heart in shock.


The Barn Owl (2)

 (Tyto alba)

Two more things:
butterscotch (which I’ll get back to),
and hovering, which is hard to do:

part of the wing must keep the bird vertical
with an up-and-down motion,
but part has to stay its flight
with a forward-and-back.

It’s something like a human
treading water,

or thinking. . .

Hannah Arendt, a friend once told me,
had a cot where she lay
until a thought was thought
through. Her husband
would not disturb her
for any caller:
“Hannah’s thinking,” he would say.

I repeated this to my mother
who responded, “How selfish!
She should get up for her guests.”

—And, though functional for a barn owl
(flight on pause to spot prey
or feed mice to nested young),
does our peculiar version
of effortful suspension
pay off, always, for us?

Still, I thought the story beautiful,
which is how a barn owl’s neck smells—
a mix of butterscotch, so they say,
and freshly washed sheets.

Imagine! Not a Zen master
tended by his disciples,
but a woman,
a married woman, defended
to hover in thought.


The Elf Owl

(Micrathene whitneyi)

We love what we like
to think like

familiar round, flattish face
and large, front-fac-
ing eyes

on a bird small
enough for a full-
sized owl’s doll.

(This one would fit in
a zip-lock for check-in.)
Bewitched, you forgot

to note feathers—and razors!
The darling you fell for’s
a raptor.

The Flammulated Owl

(Philoscops flammeolus)

Small owl with large, dark eyes—
like moth wings’ hungry eyes,
which cannot, of course, see.

We couldn’t see what it would come to.

Ash-gray, mimicking bark
of Ponderosas, where it nests,
with flame-shaped, rust-red markings.

A log in the fireplace, in childhood: remember?
Worlds-within-worlds, glimmering, dimming
to glimmer again. . .

Possibility, aching—worlds, and words.


Insectivore. Nocturnal. Flammulated.

O my grand, improbable passions. O yours.

About the Author:

CUP, a special honoree in the Able Muse Press poetry competition, is Jeredith Merrin‘s new poetry collection; her previous books, Shift and Bat Ode, appeared in the University of Chicago Press Phoenix Poets series. She’s authored an influential book of criticism on Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, and her reviews and essays (on Moore, Bishop, Clare, Mew, Amichai, and others) have appeared in The Southern Review and elsewhere. Her poems may be found in Ploughshares, The Southern Poetry Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review and The Yale Review. A retired Professor of English (The Ohio State University), she lives in Chandler, teaches the occasional class for the A.S.U. Piper Center, and is currently completing a chapbook having to do with owls.