Tuesday, November 6, 2012

March 6, 1890: Eugene Schieffelin Releases 80 Starlings in Central Park, by Holly J. Hughes

I’ll have a starling shall be taught 
To speak nothing but "Mortimer" and give it him 
To keep his anger still in motion. 
               Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1 

Snow has shaken loose all morning, 
nesting in the crotch of the ailanthus
streaking the black trunks of the locust. 

Upstate, currant farmers worry about the freeze. 
In the city, fathers hitch horses to sleighs. 
He hugs his wool coat tighter, 

spirals his muffler, lurches along, 
cobblestones slick under four inches of snow; 
in each hand a cage, balanced, a scale of justice. 

Behind him a kite-tail of servants carry 
eighty starlings -- imported from England 
to improve the landscape -- stuttering in protest. 

At last he stops, lowers each cage, lifts each latch. 
The starlings step out, blinking, 
each clawed foot unscrolling into the snow. 

Dazed from months aboard ship and carriage, 
they linger near the cages, flex their wings, 
a spatter of white on black 

like puddingstone, lower their tails, 
cock their heads, preen, 
eyes bright like honey. 

At 4:30 clouds cut away, 
clear sky thickens into evening. 
Still they stay close to their cages. 

Finally, growing cold, he rushes at the birds, 
scarecrowing his arms: Go, go, go. 
At first one, then another, and another,

until the whole murmeration lifts 
and spirals, a spidery helix 
against a darkening sky. 

                     Editor, T. Clear

This poem has previously been published in Pontoon #3: an anthology of Washington State Poets by Floating Bridge Press and in The Poet’s Guide to Birds, edited by Judith Kitchen and Ted Kooser by Anhinga Press, 2009. Published with the permission of Holly J. Hughes.

A few weeks ago, while contemplating which poem to post here, I heard a ruckus of birds in my back yard, and stepped outside in the rain to investigate. I should have known: starlings, feasting on my very ripe Interlaken grapes. Starlings are more often reviled than wondered-at, but every time I hear the singing from their assembled masses, I can't help but think that I'm hearing every language ever spoken, at once: sung, shouted, screeched, cackled, chortled, crowed, tittled, trilled, crooned. And I knew immediately which poem I'd choose, the poem I think of every time I see starlings. 

I plucked this murmuration from YouTube, worth watching —

Holly J. Hughes is co-author of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (Skinner House Press, 2012), editor of the award-winning anthology, Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press, 2009) and author of the prize-winning chapbook Boxing the Compass (Floating Bridge Press, 2007).  A recipient of an Artist Trust Fellowship, her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of anthologies and literary magazines and have been nominated for a Pushcart prize.

In addition to teaching writing at Edmonds Community College, where she co-directs the Sustainability Initiative, she also teaches writing workshops at Edmonds Write on the Sound Conference, the North Cascades Institute and Field’s End.  She has spent over thirty summers working on the water in Alaska in a variety of roles, including commercial fishing for salmon, skippering a 65-foot schooner, and most recently, working as a naturalist on ships. 

This week's editor T. Clear, of Seattle, is a founder of Floating Bridge Press. Her work has appeared in many journals and magazines, and is forthcoming in Alive at the Center, an anthology of poems from the Pacific Northwest. She can be found blogging here.

Please take the time to explore our marvelous selection of Tuesday Poems from around the globe, by clicking on any of the links on our sidebar. If you haven't had enough of starlings yet, Tim Upperton's The Starlings was featured last week on one of the Tuesday Poem blogs


Robert Ferrari said...

Very interesting, was a lot of fun to read.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

I really like the pace of this poem - moving from a painstakingly considered act of importation to the rushed impatience, scarecrow arms and harried helix of birds rising into the sky. Stunning. Thanks so much for sharing!

Claire Beynon said...

Holly's poem is gorgeous, T - the tentative tender tenacity of it. As for your commentary - the way you walked out into the rain to see what the birds were up to then listened. . . well, thank you! I'm going to uplift it from the main post and place it here in the comments box so we read it again. It's a perfect cross-section not only of bird communities but of ours (TP and beyond).

". . . every time I hear the singing from their assembled masses, I can't help but think that I'm hearing every language ever spoken, at once: sung, shouted, screeched, cackled, chortled, crowed, tittled, trilled, crooned.'

Penelope said...

In Canberra at the moment there is a concerted campaign to reduce the number of starlings (introduced here as well) which compete with native birds for nesting spots. Prisoners at the gaol make the traps, a fact which might be seen as funny or poignant or both. A fascinating poem, and thank you for the link to the video as well.

Kathleen Jones said...

This is beautiful T - apart from the conciseness of the language I love poems that tell stories - as this one does. Thank you!

Mary McCallum said...

I love poems that are stories and stories from history what's more retold as this one is with the best and crispest language - every word 'bright like honey', like this:

Dazed from months aboard ship and carriage,
they linger near the cages, flex their wings,
a spatter of white on black

like puddingstone, lower their tails,
cock their heads, preen,
eyes bright like honey.

This is a delicious poem and a delicious post. Thanks T. As Claire says - your commentary is a gem in itself, and the video! who knew a murmuration was so huge!!! X

Coco said...

I like poems, me, and my friend have a poem blog too che it out http://coceja.blogspot.dk/