C. G. Hanzlicek
Curse of the Starling
All of these hours pissed away,
Listening to the wind in the cork oaks,
Ruing this and ruing that—
The stupidities of forty years ago,
Yesterday’s slight that only I noticed—
Should be paid back just before the end
In moments, even hours, of pure ecstasy.
I doubt life is like that.
I doubt death is that kind.
I will ruminate a while longer,
Finally fall to fitful sleep,
Then wake to the horrible rasps
Of a tree filled with starlings.
I have loved birds since childhood,
But starlings are a terrible fruit.
Their markings are hardly worth the brushstrokes,
Their tails mere stubs,
Their song you already know,
And they shit like miniature race horses.
At the nineteenth century’s end,
A flock of fools released a hundred of them
In New York’s Central Park.
They wanted America to have every bird
Mentioned by Shakespeare—
“The starling curses all who long for sleep”?—
And now 200 million of them darken our skies.
So this is how it will end:
First light filtering into the room,
Each breath a step toward failure,
The ears filled with squawks,
No iambic pentameter,
hope fails us often,
The sea turtles are dying,
And the gannets, and the pelicans—
Even their eggs are smeared with oil.
Crayfish, shrimp, oysters,
The marshes themselves
Are receding into the future.
Can a city rise twice?
What happens to lagniappe
If there’s nothing left to give?
I think of the chiefs in feathered glory,
And their flag boys and spy boys,
And their second-line marches,
Once more alive than the limits of life.
Laissez le bon temps rouler.
It’s hard to believe the good times
Will roll again.
The underwater image hasn’t changed in weeks:
Crude billows like smoke from a pyre.
Then I hear shots, very near the house,
Three as quick as a finger can pull,
A short pause, then two more,
A longer pause, two more.
My wife calls 911,
But we know someone is gone,
Even as sirens from all directions
Cast a net over the neighborhood.
A young man dies in the ambulance,
Picked-off in broad daylight,
No suspects, just shell casings,
No hope for the parents,
Just younger sons
Twitching in dreams of revenge.
I want to make sense of all of this,
But I am bereft in the sudden dark.
C. G. Hanzlicek is the author of seven
collections of poetry, and has also translated Native American songs, in
A Bird's Companion, and poems from the Czech, in Mirroring:
Selected Poems of Vladimir Holan, which won the Robert Payne Award
from the Columbia University Translation Center in 1985. He recently
retired as professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing
Program at California State university, Fresno.