Saturday, March 30, 2013

`The Sweep, the Sharp, the Drive'

In the evening, shoppers avoid the grocery nearest our house because of the crowds. As the sun is setting, the power lines, trees, parking lot and roof are crowded with hundreds of great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus), “a big, brash blackbird,” all of them calling at once but not in unison, like improvised Stockhausen – white noise from black birds. They whistle, hiss and crackle against the coming of the night. Customers complain of the cuervo.

We see the birds in the morning, too, soon after sunrise, looking like whole notes on a staff perched on the wires. The pavement is spattered white. “Brash” is kind. Great-tailed grackles are aggressively extraverted, nature’s tummlers, dancing on the hood of the car when I park, hammering at leaves and needles caught under the wipers. They peck at fast-food bags, discarded fruit and candy wrappers like fastidious clean-up crews. 

I’m supposed to disapprove of the noise and filth but can’t work up much outrage. I admire the grackles’ swagger and nerve, the way they’ve adapted to our impertinence and the purple iridescence of the males. Elizabeth Jennings titled a poem “Bird Study” (Collected Poems, 2012) not as a synonym for ornithology. Rather, she refers to a bird’s intellectual capacity, its powers of concentration. A bird is the speaker, as in a poem by Les Murray. Here is the fourth and final stanza: 

“I am obsessed with energy
I never touch. I am alive
To what I only hear and see,
The sweep, the sharp, the drive.”

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