Deep in the forest, on the floor where the art risks trampling by a large mammal or easy pillage by interested parties, the bowerbird assembles his offering. His shrine is an elaborate risk of time, energy, and attention, a seemingly superfluous display of beauty.
Here, a passageway built of two rows of arched sticks bending into one another. Here a wide arc of blue feathers, blue bottlecaps, blue plastic knives, marbles, a costume ring. At the center, a wide-eyed doll, arms splayed and open-mouthed.
The offer comes with no promises beyond the pure beauty he makes visible by this daily art. He makes no pretense of protection, procures no food for the young. You will not catch him visiting the babies in a nest. The audience observes, moves closer, weighing the draw of what beguiles against the risk of being fooled.
This is his hope: to put forth something so dazzling in its excess of devotion that the ideal witness will find it and be moved, close enough to offer some hope of continuance.
Inspired by reading about the beautiful structures built by bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea (by the males of various species, in the interest of courtship), which brought to mind Robinson Jeffers’ observance of “divinely superfluous beauty.”