by James T. Fields

[This has always been one of my favorite poems; not sure when it was written, but I've known it at least from the 1950s - Sandy Wilbur]

"Who stuffed that white owl?" No one spoke in the shop.

The barber was busy, and he couldn't stop.

The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading
The "Daily," the "Herald," the "Post," little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;
Not one raised his head, or even made a suggestion;
And the barber kept on shaving.

"Don't you see, Mr. Brown,"
Cried the youth, with a frown,
"How wrong the whole thing is,
How preposterous each wing is
How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is---
In short, the whole owl, what an ignorant wreck 'tis!
I make no apology;
I've learned owl-eology.
I've passed days and nights in a hundred collections,
And can not be blinded to any deflections
Arising from unskillful fingers that fail
To stuff a bird right from his beak to his tail.
Mr. Brown! Mr. Brown!
Do take that bird down
Or you'll be the laughing stock of the town!"
And the barber kept on shaving.

"I've STUDIED owls,
And other night fowls,
And I tell you
What I know to be true;
An owl can not roost
With his limbs so unloosed;
No owl in the world
Ever had his claws curled,
Ever had his legs slanted,
Ever had his bill canted,
Ever had his neck screwed
Into that attitude.
He can't do it, because
'Tis against all bird laws.
Anatomy teaches,
Ornithology preaches,
An owl has a toe
That CAN'T turn out so!
I've made the white owl my study for years,
And to see such a job almost moves me to tears!
Mr. Brown, I'm amazed
You should be so gone crazed
As to put up a bird in that posture absurd!
To look on that bird really brings on a dizziness;
The man who stuffed him didn't have know his business!"
And the barber kept on shaving.

"Imagine those eyes.
I'm filled with surprise
Taxidermists would pass
Off on you such poor glass;
So unnatural they seem
They'd make Audubon scream,
And John Burroughs laugh
To encounter such chaff.
Do take that bird down;
Have his stuffed again, Brown!"
And the barber kept on shaving.

"With some sawdust and bark
I could stuff in the dark
An owl better than that.
I could make an old hat
Look more like an owl
Than that horrid fowl,
Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.
In fact, about HIM, there's not one natural feather!"

Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch,
The owl, very gravely, got down from his perch,
Walked round and regarded his fault-finding critic
(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,
And then fairly hooted, as if he should say:
"Your learnings at fault THIS time, anyway;
Don't waste it again on a live bird, I pray.
I'm an owl; you're another. Sir Critic, good day!"
And the barber kept on shaving.


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