Ange Mlinko, “The Owl”

With thanks to Emma Askew

The Owl (from Poetry)
Ange Mlinko

The flight attendants
from kore to semaphore

as a city falls into
discredited ether—

Gewick, gewick, oo-oo!

stoic, take—from hands wisely

a bony treat
through the hardware
in your face;

shrug your throat.


The speaker attends flight herself. She moves from kore (statues of clothed maidens) to semaphore (visual signalling, sometimes for planes). This movement is not simply her assertion of sexuality or her growth. This is not just a cheap high, a nightlife thrill.

No, nightfall is a “discredited ether.” “Ether” reminds of Eliot’s Prufrock, where in the evening the narrator walks, talking to himself, wondering if it’s all a bad, drugged dream. Our speaker is beginning to reflect on something. I feel like “discredited ether” is night being a natural time for sleep and rest. We’ve replaced night’s power with something artificial and man-made. Something that might not be sleep, rest, patience at all.

And then, the owl: Gewick, gewick, oo-oo! This may not be relevant, but I looked in German for anything that might help. I didn’t search too thoroughly, but I found “gewicht,” with connotations of “weight, significance.” The owl is some kind of confirmation of the speaker’s gut feeling.

The owl (“shoulderless stoic”), acolyte of Athena, is worshiped in the latter half of the poem. The owl eats bones – yes, I’m forcing bony treat to be literal. Flesh would be nice, but wisdom has seen many a decline and fall. All there is to eat is bones. All one who endured so long could be is hardware.

And yet, the owl will shrug its throat. Yes, this may be the speaker wanting to calm the owl. But could this also be its indifference to our speaker? Wisdom may not want to solve this problem, where our asserting ourselves, our finding our desires replaces the natural world and displaces the old gods. We have to move to the visual and quiet audible warnings somewhat. This is not sensuality merely. After all, one attended flight in the movement of kore to semaphore and in attending to the owl.

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