Monday I watched a Laughing Gull
work an hour to shred a fish
too big to gulp. Wednesday
a Ring-Billed Gull caught a crab,
dropped it, grabbed it up, swallowed,
struggled to govern the thing
that wriggled in his white throat.

At the beach today, somebody’s grandson,
about eight, skinny red-head,
holds a bag of bread chunks.
He extends his arm, opens his palm,
thinks twice, retreats toward
the paunchy grandpa with a camera,
turns again to the sea and reaches out again
and again until he’s failed three times to feed the birds.

Now, over the Atlantic, gulls circle a spot.
They look casual out there. Are they bored,
drifting and scanning, so many fish in the sea?
And time’s only starting to crawl toward dusk.

At the pier’s end, five fishermen
lean over the ocean. Above them,
eight gulls gather on a lamp post.
Books say gulls are gregarious,
might mate for life and stick to a colony
that shuns runaway parents.

Are there philosopher gulls,
bogged down with what they know
about that first layer of light
beneath the ocean’s skin?
Do they wonder why simpleton fish
don’t simply swim deeper down?

There goes a pair speeding across the sky—
They don’t wonder.

A half-dozen others spiral lazily up,
coast awhile—maybe they’re the thinkers.
No, one by one, they peel off
and dive. Six white splashes pock the sea.

I try to care about fish. I try
to demonize the gull’s beak,
the hooked tip, efficient weapon,
but fish-empathy sticks in my throat.

Here comes that same freckled boy,
this time with a larder of whole grain chips.
He looks out to the looping birds.

When they smack the water
in white explosions, the child
asks his ruddy grandpa
if the birds are killing themselves.

The old man laughs—too hard.
The birds are fine, he says.
Hold it out again! All the way!
He means to be jolly,
but these are commands.

The gulls swarm, close and wild.
The boy stands his ground.
Grandpa says, That’s it! Do it again!
and the picture-snapping begins.

GULLS by John Hazard

Photo used under CC.