Blackbird Circle


Ron Welburn

The blackbirds, his boyhood noticed,
never went south for winter.
And he never knew where
they went, besides finding dull
fields broken only by random trees;
and with the starlings they peopled these and
swarmed in the low grass
or anywhere the corn had stood
thickly tassled.

With harvest equinox
their flocks gathered:
the first aerial artists
jet pilots copied as war squadrons.
Masses of bodies congealed, flights
laid across the clouds
folded back onto themselves,
turned like a gesture of the Mystery's hand
so many bends and arabesques our dancers,
grasping gourds and feathers
admire and emulate.

Above the autumn fields
they split like two thick strands,
careen with a discipline untouched
by any but the leaves, singing joyously
celebrating their freedom in the fumey air.

They gather at avenues
flights moving eastward, sometimes westerly;
intermittent dark canals in sunlight;
cowbirds, cinnamon-tinged rusties
of the white eye-
only the starlings remained,
stubby tails and white speckles a fixture
in their lack of grace.

Late winter, his boyhood noticed,
the grackles filled the spruce trees
and the hemlocks and waved
like lance feathers at the tops of
tall pines, promising spring with
stiff winds and blowing snows.

Man with his son
whose boyhood too may never
discover their hideaway,
follow along the Hudson south
coming this equinox,
traveling with a river of redwings,
a long, an endless black arrow
marked in red and streakings.
They fly on and on to places
where landowners again set poison,
to places in his memory
where they stood cattails a momentary
perch and croaked, and nested
in the dry fields,
guarding, observing his walks,
signaling, teaching his son.

A long deep river above the water
the son now must witness,
calling his father back into time,
calling the power of seeing
a smooth black river
marked in blood and streakings
and song, turning to the west,
miles below them, where son and man
watch them bend at a place
of the Mystery's hand toward
the afternoon sun,
to a place of fields of ancestors
gathering since the childhood of this world.

© 1990 Ron Welburn. From Council Decisions, Native American Chapbook Series, American Native Press Archives, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
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