Settlers by Eileen Tabios

Perhaps we understood
we were practicing
but thought it benign:
what was wrong
with building housing
for the owls?
O the length of the pole
to raise that house
as high as many oaks
surrounding our home.
O the shine on
that roof of silver
corrugated steel.
O the wooden pieces
layered like siding
against outside walls
for a rustic décor
we understood the owls
would ignore but still—
            we thought—
enhanced the landscape.
But no owls knocked
on its doorless door.
For years we would
interrupt our waiting
to loosen earth around
the pole for moving
the arched entrance
towards more of
sunset, then more
of dawn, in search
of the right angle
to entice the owls.
For years we’d search
the ground beneath
the “owl condo” for
crushed bones spat out
after their meals
of less romantic wildlife:
rats, mice, voles…
For years Laura, who
was born and raised
in the area, watched us
silently (though we did
not notice her pursed lips)
until this morning
when I shared that
my husband and I
recently realized
we’d lived for two decades
in our house—“longer
than any other place.”
Laura replied, “Want
to know why no owls
live in the place you built?”
I made my eyes as wide
as those I’d seen on
internet pictures of owls.
“Those owl houses are for
barn owls. Your land
is inhabited by great horned
owls who eat barn owls.”
My eyes widened further
as if I already knew that
the eyes of great horned owls
rank among the largest of
all terrestrial vertebrates.
As if I already knew that their
eyes are adapted for nocturnal
hunting to provide a wide,
almost completely binocular field
of view, a large corneal surface
and a predominantly rod retina.
As if I already knew that instead of
turning its eyes, the owl must turn
its whole head. As if I already knew
that the great horned owl is capable
of rotating its neck 270 degrees.
“Great horned owls live
atop trees and would never
enter the house you built
atop that skinny pole.”
My eyes began to shrink
turning my gaze inward:
how much have we failed
to learn in the two decades
of living on this land
that has hosted
our most intimate sleeps?
What else should we know
that we failed to learn?
What else should we know?
I hear them in the distance
perched on treetops too high
for me to visit. Hoo hoo, bu-
bubu booh, who-hoo-ho-oo…
Their calls resist translation.
1eileen tabios

Eileen R. Tabios has released about 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. In 2020 she will release a new poetry collection, Because I Love You, I Become War, and a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form that has been used by poets and artists around the world. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at Eileen R. Tabios


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