Red-winged blackbird/fast-foods parking lot

A continuing series in which poets comment on their poems. He's out of our class this jaunty customer (ebony cape lined in scarlet)

but not above

stooping for handouts (half-eaten bun dropped on blacktop)

where he swoops

(spotless, superior) flutters over to fence's shadow

in blue-eyed noon

muttering threats that change to bubbling scraps of song.

Culture shock:

who or what, I ask, is native to this place?


In the '50s on a beautiful summer day, I was driving with friends on Cape Cod. We were hungry. We pulled up to a new fast-foods outlet surrounded by marshes. As we crossed the parking lot, a red-winged blackbird swooped down, retrieved a crumb, and flew over to the fence.

A familiar zing signaled the potential presence of a poem. ``Hey, wait a minute,'' I thought, remembering red-winged blackbirds balancing on dusty miller and long dune grass in the front yard of my family's summer home a dozen years before World War II. ``What's that bird doing here?''

Shocked, puzzled, I felt amused and, at the same time, sad. A cultural crunch revealed itself more clearly than before. The marriage that had built the house on the dunes had dissolved 20 years ago. The house itself had been swept out to sea in a hurricane.

I looked around at the tourist crowd, clad in polyester slacks and shorts. The whole fast-foods concept seemed suddenly banal. The bird - so brilliant, so clean, so elegant - appeared out of place. Were we stealing its territory? Was it invading ours? Or both?

Of several versions of this poem, I like this one best. I like the hard ``c'' sounds in the first stanza, the double meaning of ``blacktop,'' the buried suggestion of ``nun'' in the combination of ``spotless, superior'' with ``blue-eyed noon.'' I like the paradox of a classy beggar and the contrast of scolding and singing in the bird's voice. I like the unanswered question. Most of all, I like the rhythm of erratic long/short lines - like a bird's fluttering.

None of the above was deliberately or even consciously arrived at. Feeling created its own form, as it always must in poetry.

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