ODE TO THE PELICAN by Alison Pelegrin

Ode to the Pelican

Brown or white, you are the goofiest of birds.
Bird of crash dives and the infinite wattle,
creature most likely to be caricatured

in blown glass, to be carved and clown-painted
in Oaxaca. Albatross of the Gulf, usherer in
of fishing boats, even the psalmist took note:

I am like a pelican of the wilderness. Oh, my soul,
if I could shape shift, it would be you, pelican,
and I’d yawp from your roomiest of throats.

Pelican, Pelegrin: on lazy tongues our names alike.
Wing man of my father as he marathoned across
Lake Pontchartrain with blood in his shoes.

Portrayed prolifically in water colors, but rarely
the topic of a tribal tattoo. Selfless Pelican,
in stained glass second only to the dove,

feeding your trinity of flightless young with shreds
of flesh and sips of your own blood. On the state flag
they’ve sanitized your cannibal love, Louisiana bird.

What can we do for you, pelican? Oil spoiled,
washing up on toxic beaches. Marbled eggs
unforming while pious, blackened pelicans sit.

I have been faithless, pelican. All my life I thought
you were falling–reckless, sprawled like Icarus–
until you surfaced with a fish. Blue-gloved hands

hold you kindly in a tub, flush saline in your eyes,
give your feathers a toothbrush scrub. You fight
by giving up, unwilling or unable to be saved by us.

-Alison Pelegrin


This ‘oil spoil’ has me scared to death. Hurricane season begins today and will last six long months. This picture of me was taken almost exactly one year ago in Pensacola, Florida, also part of the Gulf Coast.


The recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Alison Pelegrin is a life long resident of the New Orleans area. She is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Big Muddy River of Stars (U. Akron, 2007), which chronicles, among other things, her post-Katrina lifestyle and surroundings. At present she teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University.


4 thoughts on “ODE TO THE PELICAN by Alison Pelegrin

  1. Pingback: Via Negativa
  2. Terrific poem! I’ve been struggling to write something about the brown pelican, but it’s so much better that this came from a native of a Pelican State.

  3. Beautiful and sad……I have shed many tears for the Gulf of Mexico. If tears could clean the Gulf, I could have washed it clean myself….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s