Written by Lauro Vazquez 
Art by Siamak Pourjabbar 

Published 5/9/2014

Art by Siamak Pourjabbar 

Professor Charles Otis Whitman (1842-1910)
leapt from astonishment into awe

in his lab at the University of Chicago where
he found a Passenger Pigeon egg brooding
below a tiny wing entangled in the
left ventricle of his heart

Professor Whitman lived his whole life
with an egg brooding in his heart meanwhile
he made major contributions to the fields
of evolution & heredity & animal behavior

But all his attempts or experiments
failed when forcing a Rock Dove
foster Passenger Pigeon eggs &
of which only but a handful remained

Those eggs were known for driving Charles
crazy—because mating is one thing & saving
a species another the professor would say
whispering to himself late into night

(Meanwhile at home little wings
would grow behind his wife’s ears
those ears would puff their feathers & emit low notes
& perform pirouettes for the professor who was less
& less capable of fostering Passenger Pigeon eggs)

Those eggs would have saved the species
from extinction or at the very least those eggs
would have saved Professor Whitman
more than one heartache

Professor Whitman lived the rest of his life in fear
of heartbreak & in a dank & damp cage of the Cincinnati Zoo—
using a sharpened rod from a cage of the Cincinnati Zoo—
Professor Whitman untangled his great cardiac vein
& slashing through the coronary sulcus
he padded his heart’s left ventricle
with a few old rags & one ball of cotton

(For the little egg brooding
in his heart or for the egg
brooding his heart he’d say)

Professor Whitman lived the rest of his life
caring for the bird snarled in his left ventricle
& he also spent many days awake in horror
or in fear that the bird would leave him

That bird hatched from a hole in Professor Whitman
in 1885 & went on to outlive the professor
& to be known by the name of Martha

Martha was exhibited in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo
where all attempts or experiment at mating with her
were defeated & where she lived until her death in 1914

Ah Charles Ah Whitman
of the heart broken like an egg
on which burned the lyrics
of the poet Sappho

I don’t know what becomes
of a death like Martha’s & even less
what will become of us one hundred years
after the death of Martha

But I know that after her death
Martha was shipped to a lab at the Smithsonian
where she arrived bound by her feet
& frozen in a 300-pound block of ice
(courtesy of the Cincinnati Ice Company)

Ice that preserved her internal organs
her heart when dissected by one Robert Shufeldt
(I don’t know what becomes of a death like that)
but that Robert found a flock of birds lodged
in Martha’s left ventricle

Those birds would swoop through the roof
of a lab at the Smithsonian swoop through a keyhole
found by Mr. Robert in the Washington D.C. skyline

I myself saw them sail through the sky
on a day like any other / except that you’d kiss me

I am talking about the time we were loved by the same bird
& our lips were two wings of a single bird
(perhaps that bird was named Martha or Charles)
or it was a common bird your voice would guide back to me
as if into a cage where it found food & water

that bird would stir up my hands my heart
would devour my left lung whole like the keyhole
or mouth by which you left me
by which you left me


Lauro Vazquez is a CantoMundo fellow and the winner of the Nicholas Sparks prize. He is assistant editor and contributor at Letras Latinas--the literary program at Notre Dame's institute for Latino Studies. Lauro is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame's Creative Writing program.  
(Updated May 2014)

Born in 1976, Siamak Pourjabbar is Creative Manager at Eshareh Advertising Agency and a member of the Iranian Graphic Designers Society. He has participated in several international exhibitions including the Hong Kong International Poster Triennial (2010) and the Chicago International Poster Biennial (2010). He has won a number of national and international prizes including second prize at “4th Block,” the 7th International Triennial of Eco-Posters, Kharkov, Ukraine (2009), and prize for Poster for Tomorrow, Freedom of Expression (2009).  
(Updated Sep. 2013)