Monday, January 3, 2011

Black Bird New Year

So, I heard that thousands, yes thousands, of red-wing black birds feel from the sky into a tiny town in Arkansas on New Year's Eve. Thousands of dead birds. Imagine if you went out in your back yard and red-wing black birds were piled up two or three deep. What a nightmare....

So, the autopsies of these birds revealed they died from internal bleeding, caused by what, at midnight on New Year's Eve in Arkansas?


They were all roosting in trees, people said,
as darkness came.
Red winged black birds don't fly at night,
since their sight is limited
to daylight flying.

And at midnight, like the coming of the new year,
they fell in masses,
dead from trauma and bleeding inside themselves.

These birds who live in the summer
up where we live,
in the elbow of the country.

When I used to go to Block Island
on a regular basis
in the summer and early fall,
there would be
dozens and dozen of them--
red-winged black birds--
around a pond down by the ocean
on my way from St. Ann's church
to the town.

I'd hear them a quarter of a mile
before I saw them,
all around that pond,
a congregation of them,
And once I passed them,
walking to town,
I'd hear them for another
quarter of a mile before the sounds
of town drowned out their song.

And, I've been told, thousands of them
fell dead in Arkansas
on New Year's eve,
for no reason
yet discerned
by the state Veterinarian
(who knew Arkansas
had such an official office?
do they have a state Poet
or a state Chef
or a state Auto Mechanic
as well???)

"Perhaps," he said,
in an accent I recognize
though I grew up
a thousand miles from Arkansas.
It is all Appalachia, after all,
we all sounded like that
some time, and some of us
still do.

"Perhaps," he said,
that official animal doctor
of the state of Arkansas,
"they were startled from
their roosting and flew into
the trees."
It was all, he said, blunt trauma

"So what could make them do that,"
the radio voice asked him,
(the radio voice wasn't Appalachian,
or Southern, or New England
or Mid-west--just the voice people
who talk on the radio have.
No accent to speak of.
Accents are disappearing, it seems to me,
and that is as sad
not 'more sad' surely,
than the death of thousands of blackbirds.)

He wasn't sure.
Perhaps the thunder storms that
raced through that part
of Arkansas on New Year's Eve.

Or even the sound of the fireworks
that are perfectly legal in Arkansas
and most places below
the Mason-Dixon line.

Imagine that:
our way of celebrating the birth
of 2011,
startled thousands
of precious, wondrous birds
who live with us most of the year,
and caused them to wake from sleep,
fly blindly,
and kill themselves on the trees
where they had roosted
for the night.

Imagine that.

How many I wonder,
will come back to Block Isand
next spring?

Happy New Year!

(Five times a thousand
were baked into a pie.
Until the fireworks
and caused them to fly....)

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.