Eugene Schieffelin and the Starlings
He lets them go, with a Shakespearian gesture
as a curtain of snow falls in Central Park.
Ill-fated sparrows, reluctant passerines,
wilting larks. All these in time
become dull-feathered corpses. He does not stop.
Dark wings gather on the frosty rooftops.
They are readying themselves to vault
ambitiously. Each squawk
imitating an actor who is imitating a king.
They fly away on the breath of his imagining.
How one man’s ego can beget a tragedy!
Imagine us behind a window like Tippie Hedren
as words multiply, hurtle at us ruthlessly,
a murmuration of consequences.
Eugene Schieffelin was responsible in 1890 for introducing 60 European starlings into the USA where they spread and became a serious pest, threatening native birds and the eco-system. They now number 200 million. Reputedly he was trying to introduce all the birds that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays into the USA. In most cases this failed.
A photograph is more than one memory. Time collides
across a particular space; a murky river spills
on to the shore. Remember how you were travelling
in another country. Boats passed you; people living on boats.
You see objects: flowers propped in a bucket by the logs;
clothes pegged to the line; oil drums tied
for ballast to the sides of a perilous raft. Poems are
not always finished. There’s a face in the shadow
you can’t explain, never saw before, have no story for.
You held the lens steady to tell the future what
you cannot know. The aperture of an instant. In a dream
your mother comes back as she has before, not dead,
but far away, travelling. The lack of connection
disturbs you. You are sorry you have forgotten.
[Linda Anderson has published poems in PN Review, Poetry Review, The Rialto amongst others and her pamphlet, Greenhouse, is published by Mariscat. She is Professor of English at Newcastle University and Director of the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts. Her latest critical book is Elizabeth Bishop: Lines of Connection (Edinburgh University Press, 2014).]
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