What a witches’ sabbath of wings
– Robinson Jeffers
Little bird, little bird, LET ME OUT. Not-a-chance Not-a-chance Forget-get-get-get-it …
Damn this cracked crow! Damn this wicked net! A snare of ritual and vexation: Icterinæ Tyranny. Grackle Sacrament. Sins of the Feather. Banging your head till you’re blackbird and blue.
All the time in Hell on your hands and an eternity of bird devotions on an endless string of millet … Ave Aviary, Ave Oriole, Hail bob-bob-bob Bobolink …
Dead of night and captive to an unremitting chorus of blackbirds: Rusty Falsetto (creaking demons and doors and coming unhinged!), Nasal-Toned Tricolour (triple-glazed windows, blue in the face), Quiscalus mexicanus … Arriba! Arriba! Arriba!
Grisly dreams. A palpitating litany of shadowy birds: Quiscalus quiscula (Commonest Common Grackle), Euphagus cyanocephalus (Brewer’s Blackbird, volcanic stomach), Euphagus … esophagus (a nagging bird in the throat and your hands
won’t stop trembling).
Notes on the PoemHow does 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Sylvia Legris manage to pack so much into her poems? Even when the word count is comparatively modest, poems such as this section of "Strange Birds; Twitching Birds" feel dense with meaning and intense with feeling. Perhaps Legris achieves that effect through, among other things, getting many words to serve double and triple duty. One such method of getting that extra mileage out of a word is punning, or creating partial puns. A pun is defined as "a play on words in which a humorous effect is produced by using a word that suggests two or more meanings or by exploiting similar sounding words having different meanings." We've touched on this device in another Poem of the Week, "Artless" by Brenda Shaughnessy. In Legris' poem "Sins of the Feather" echoes "sins of the father", a biblical phrase that suggests that the sins of one generation pass on to following generations. "Banging your head till you're blackbird and blue" maintains the avian theme of the poem, while connoting and denoting something much more furious. A tone of frustration builds to references such as "Rusty Falsetto (creaking demons and doors and coming unhinged!)" When "Euphagus", the taxonomic genus that includes grackles and blackbirds, morphs into "esophagus", Legris brings this segment of "Strange Birds; Twitching Birds" to a conclusion that looks and sounds like the narrator is choking ... clutching her throat, in effect. Has the supposedly humorous punning and wordplay taking a troubling turn?