To Eugene Schieffelin with Gratitude

Eugene Schieffelin belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America in the later part of 1800.  It was his hope to introduce all birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s sonnets to America.  He had several failures including bull-finches, nightingales, and sky larks.  In 1906, he introduced 30 pair of starlings into Central Park, NYC.  After a bitter winter that promised another disappointment, a starling was finally witnessed roosting near the Museum of Natural History in late spring.

(For Daniel)

Our travel north was interrupted
to rest in the park that straddles
East Pond Road.  We surveyed
tables carved with initials and the marsh
that melds the drumlins to the shore of Ontario,
and we watched the afternoon sun dance
against reeds and spill into the expanse of water.

There arrived a small flock of starlings
that had, I imagined, completed their gleaning
in fields and yards and gardens,
and had now come to weave their play
through loosestrife and cow vetch
and splash about in shallows
and rattle dust from their throats.

Soon, they were joined by others
that perched in sumac and sycamore
and lined wires threading the highway.
A lone male took rest on the table’s edge
to preen the speckles of his breast
and flex wings fringed with faded gold
and chatter fragments of borrowed refrains.

And then there were ten thousand,
(a number not padded by my count)
that flooded the skyway
above the lakeshore marshes,
and leafed out trees and brush,
and acquiesced to swell and spire and cascade—
to disperse like escaped breath and pull back—
to throng into a single soul of splendor
swooping and veering and gyrating—
undulating as if turned in and out at once.

What is the reason for this curious pageant?
A waltz for warmth against the darkness of night?
A signal of woes?

I knew only their grace, which could not
be matched even by the oarweed’s lamenting
sway as the bay tide falls or by the silks
of Lan Ying, the girl from Xi’ an,
who ripples her fans in dance.

And then, the birds and you and I were silent—
like a hiding place—
the space between our kisses—
the last breath in a poem.