Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Bird Study

Though there were rookeries of crows to darken
the skies and robins by the thousands both

summer and winter, Thomas Jefferson bought
his first mockingbird from a Charles City slave,

hung its cage with moonflowers and trumpet vine,
fed it bits from his own lips, in thrall to this

slow-westering stranger, Mimus polyglottos. Wild mocker
in that mulatto landscape, it would not on its own

find Jefferson’s mountaintop for twenty years yet,
its tidewater song pinned to eastern cedar

and shallow-rooted shrub, to the shoreline’s sure
subsidence as it received all the waters of all the rivers.

For the first time, in her seventies, my mother,
nearly blind, sees, she says—sees

yard birds: goldfinches and hummers in August,
yellowrumps and juncos in January, the dumb

doves raising chicks in the hanging basket
by May’s banging screen door, and the mockingbird,

all year, on the taut clothesline. She frets,
knows this life-list is short, so I’ve given her

a suet cage, field guide, binoculars,
a feeder, to see what might still come.

Her last spring, too hot, too early, ravening
black birds descend—starlings, grackles, crows—

devouring all she offers. Her questions then:
When to stop feeding, what to withhold?

Just off the road to Lanexa, a hungry crow
shadows a box turtle at her shallow

dirt nest, gulping each small egg
even as the turtle pushes them out.

Nearby, I crouch on a ditch rim
in mud and sun, camera shuttered,

shuttered against the crow,
crow dark as any old sorrow.

Glossy black wing torn from a shoulder
in the tangled vetch at the yard’s edge.

Rain, wind, foraging ants—another season finally
arrives. I forget to look, and then I see that it’s gone.

Pests mobbing his feeders, crows work
without music my father says. Yet when my sister

phones, he goes, leather gloves and towel in hand,
to a crow caught at its throat, wedged between fence

pickets in her yard, each wingbeat bloodying
wood, crow unable to call or rise. Approaching the bird

from behind, he cups belly and breast, releases it,
lowers it to the ground. Free, the crow seeks

shade in the cool dirt beneath looping boughs
of forsythia, at once its bright shield and bower.  

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