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.