by Meg Kearney
All the starlings I have known are dead.
Summers I'd scrape them off the school
house lawn—their nests on the edge
of a slate blue roof—babies featherless,
heads too heavy, breathing shallow
as promises of drunks. I've known a few
of them, too, heads dipping and rising
before the final plunk. There's only so
much you can do, which by age seven
or eight I knew about drunks, but baby
birds I thought might be saved with
an eye dropper filled with milk. Some
mushed-up worms. What I wanted
to shove down their throats was song,
echo of their parents' cartoon chirps,
their imitation coughs of crows that
peppered the school yard willow.
Damn. Starlings will mimic anything:
drunkard's bellow, eighteenth-century
allegretto. Mozart once bought a pet
starling when it whistled his G major
concerto. He was flattered, I am sure,
though maybe too like me he thought
a song could save a thing. Could save
a starling, anyhow. I buried those
babies on the school's vast grounds.
Marked the place with stones. Winters
I would visit there while my mother
drank alone. Quiet, I'd tell the babies'
ghosts as their murmuration rose
far above the schoolhouse roof
its belly full of stars.
from All morning the crows (The Word Works 2021)