Thursday, January 01, 2009


With the disappearance of snow in the last few days came the reappearance of birds. The backyard was crowded with dark-eyed juncos, crows and a lone robin working the dead grass like golfers in search of a ball. Through the front window we watched a war. Trash collectors, because of the ice and snow, haven’t visited our neighborhood in three weeks. The people across the street leave their open-topped trash bins at the curb. Crows and two species of gulls tore open the plastic trash bags and pulled out stinking riches. Gulls are bigger but crows are smarter and better organized. One crow would feed while two or three of his companions formed a defensive perimeter, repelling the swooping gulls. It looked like an avian reenactment of the charge of the French Cuirassiers against the British squares at Waterloo.

The loveliest seasonal poem I know about birds is “To a Bird in Winter” by Eric Ormsby (from Time’s Covenant):

“Thicket-whisperer, you
Cherish austerity,
Your small claws blue
Beneath the raggedy

“Habit of subzero
Song. And you will
Tutor me, flit-hero,
Accentual icicle,

“Prophet-minor of cold-
Crunched twigs and nettle-
Skeletons; your bold
Coal-chip pupil settle

“On me, where I follow
You, farther into hiddenness,
Aswarm in the swallow
Villas now left summerless.

“Remembrance of the sun
Glitters your retices;
Icy octaves bangle your dun
Beak that curettes crevices.”

“Cauterized, chipper, astute,
You concentrate the frigid waste
In fierce fluff, my modest flute
That whistles to the holocaust.”

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