To a European Starling
This isn’t just a regular ode
I’m writing you, bird. It’s much more
personal than that.
But what do you care? You’ve got
no class at all. You wouldn’t know
the real thing if it bit you.
Horatian? Pindaric? This one is neither.
It belongs to a class of its own,
first introduced into English by Abraham Cowley
in 1656, since when it has spread
like the plague, forcing strophe,
antistrophe, and epode back
Into the most inaccessible depths
of human memory, while this crap
turns up everywhere. Like you, bird.
For you, Sturnus Vulgaris, like your distant cousins,
the nightingale and the skylark, are more than just a bird.
You are a whole dimension of the universe.
You are cheat grass, bad currency, the greasy bottom
of the Chicago River flowing backwards
into Lake Michigan, an engineering wonder.
Oily‑coated, lice‑infested, beady‑eyed, and fat
you live alone. Or maybe five of you
build slovenly nests in an old woodpecker hole
in the dead limb of one willow tree
or some other cavity
you can stuff with twigs and weeds.
“Fouled by excrement,”
it says of your nest
in my Peterson’s Guide.
If you were only a bird and there were only one of you,
you would still be too many. You would haunt me
every winter. No, not just your shadow
Crossing the barbaric glass of my frosted window,
to and fro. No, not just some indecipherable cause,
but a hunk of real meat that even my dog won’t eat.
Whole flocks grub around in the dead brown grass,
looking for worms or God knows what. Or else you squat
like a tramp hunched over a chimney pot
While exhaust from somebody’s furnace
warms your belly and maybe your beak.
What a bum you are!
Across the Atlantic and westward
you followed the main chance,
the American dream. When I look
in the mirror and see you daubing
a fresh razor cut with a piece of pink Kleenex,
I see you are me, and it fills me
with such contempt, such loathing
of you who are cause of so much ugliness
and misery — and the symbol of so much more,
that I wish I could eradicate you
from the surface of the Earth
and the skies above it.
Instead, I give you this poem,
this irregular ode.