Mockingbird



She is no one’s favorite bird.

Her call is awful; I used to think it was

the crow’s. Now I know, but, Oh!

When I hear that grating scratch

across the chalkboard sky, I

know what I’ll see:

a well-made, straight-stretched bird body

hurtling through the air for the nearest tree,

or bush, or patch of grass, flying

too fast not to die, but

she never does.


Even her happy, greeting chirp scrapes

through her throat, as the pair of them,

the bird and her lover,

light on a tree branch,

discussing their plans, surveying the land.

(Happy? Are they happy?

They sing no songs.)


I love her best on fence posts, on the edge

of my porch, where she perches

deceptively still, until some puff of wind

or imperceptible shift in the scales

of the universe sends that long, elegant stripe of

black gray white tail

up, then down, then up, then down.

And now the bird is bobbing for her life,

or at least for balance, all the while

maintaining a quiet eye,

nearly but not quite succeeding in convincing me she is

not concerned, not at all, about holding her perch

on this wire or post or narrow board.


She is a serious bird.

She never sails, always

jets through the air on an earnest stream,

eschewing ridicule, save for when that tightrope tail

sketches a frantic dance, pointing from earth

to sky and back again,

which is when my heart really beats for this bird

who can be nothing other than what she is,

in flight, or in rest: herself.


I love the mockingbird because

she persists in diving through the air,

straight and dangerous, to the bush, to the branch,

to the not-very-well-hidden nest

that she built and returns to, faithful with her mate, year after year,

not understanding that her cover is blown from the beginning.

The little warm eggs won’t keep.

Or if they do,

the scrawny pink necks stretched to the sky won’t

stay, won’t grow,

wide yellow beaks open for what they need,

not knowing a crow will soon find what it needs in them.

Every year, the mockingbird is here,

tipping her tail on the railing,

eyeing the same bush as if wondering, “Is this a good spot?”

and every time choosing it.


Foolhardy? Who can say?

But I have seen her flying arrow-straight and swift,

long black wings against her gray white side,

no laughable thing

—that purpose,

that glee,

that sound—

so loud

as she slices the atmosphere,

a ten-inch streak of hurtling energy,

urgently happy,

yes, happy,

to light perfectly in her chosen home.

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