For the Birds Radio Program: Bird Legs, a poem by John Oberholtzer

Original Air Date: June 16, 1999

Laura reads a luscious poem of summer by John Oberholtzer. 3:47 (Date confirmed)

Audio missing


Something about summertime brings out the lazy, the sensual, and the contemplative in us humans. In Porgy and Bess we hear a luscious tune about “summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” In another song, we “roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer-those days of soda and pretzels and beer.” The boys of summer play a spectator sport that allows us to stare up into the sunny sky between outs—at least when the game is played outside where summer is really happening, one of many reasons I’ll always be a Cubs fan. My favorite scene in my favorite book of childhood, Little Women, is when the March sisters gaze into the sky imagining their futures. They could build their castles in the clouds at Wrigley Field, but never at the Metrodome.

One of my “For the Birds” listeners spends his days gazing up at the sky and wondering about the birds he sees. John Oberholtzer sent me a poem as summery as nighthawks fluttering on a warm breeze. He calls it, “Bird Legs.”

I’ve seen gulls leave a leg hanging down as they fly. Cruising in front of my car, the foot swings back and forth at each turn like a rudder. Crows and hawks bounce into the air, and then, slightly askew, feet and legs dangle, communicating out of use, away from land.

I’d let my legs swing too. Rappelling, or on a trampoline, legs sweetly float. We share with raven feelings of fatigue. We know the strategies of gull when she seeks a relaxing posture. All creatures of sinew and bone, of pull and push, are relieved to let it all hang out, seeking the sensation of loose and relaxed.

In dreams, legs hang. Flight comes naturally, and the weight of legs is felt. Odd pressures on the hips, and tingling in the soles, remind us how infrequently our legs are allowed to drift. Below a parachute the feet tickle, as if shoes may slip off without the ground to hold them in place. I want to follow gull over the break wall; out over the depths of the lake, my legs like pants drying on a breezy clothesline. Fold my wings with raven, as he lets go to tumble toward his mate. Drop my legs with eagle, and feel the wind and splash on my toes grabbing for trout.

I swim naked with my friend, dangling in clear water. Her breasts float from ribs relieved to feel the sharp cool. We dry in the sun against a rock, torsos and arms like sleepy orangutans.

Awakened, we jump back in, floating flat, forest debris peeling off our bodies, zigzagging slowly to the bottom. Our hair undulates in the waves. Raven swims overhead, legs pumping imaginary water, sun dancing on obsidian talons. Gravity seems to slip, and it feels imminent we will drift into a sky full of water, birds, earth and people, gently bumping and drifting over the horizon.

That luscious summer poem was from John Oberholtzer. I’m Laura Erickson, speaking For the Birds.