American Life in Poetry

Here, David Wagoner, a distinguished poet living in Washington state, vividly describes a peacock courtship, and though it's a poem about birds, haven't you seen the males of other species, including ours, look every bit as puffed up, and observed the females' hilarious indifference?

Peakock Display

He approaches her, trailing his whole fortune,
Perfectly cocksure, and suddenly spreads
The huge fan of his tail for her amazement.

Each turquoise and purple, black-horned, walleyed quill
Comes quivering forward, an amphitheatric shell
For his most fortunate audience: her alone.
He plumes himself. He shakes his brassily gold
Wings and rump in a dance, lifting his claws
Stiff-legged under the great bulge of his breast.

And she strolls calmly away, pecking and pausing,
Not watching him, astonished to discover
All these seeds spread just for her in the dirt.

Reprinted from 'Best of Prairie Schooner: Fiction and Poetry,' University of Nebraska Press, 2001, by permission of the author, whose most recent book is 'Good Morning and Good Night,' University of Illinois Press, 2005.

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