The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
12.4 (Fall 2012)
Dirge for Brown Thrasher
The nets were for squirrels.
They always depredated apricots
When left unmolested, and molestation
Enough was hard to stir. No deterrent—
Not a nuclear warhead under the birdbath—
Could have kept them from vandalism,
Teeth-marking green fruit, finally finding
Sufficient gold blush to give savor—
Depositing half-gnawed jewels at my doorstep
In a squirrel’s mid-finger gesture,
Fouling the harvest before it was ripe.
I thought of Swift’s Yahoos more than once
Whose hanging about high among trees
Was most visible all about one’s feet
In excremental calling cards.
I would have exploded a nuclear warhead
To be rid of squirrels.
So you, Brown Thrasher, were collateral damage.
The nets were never meant for you.
And you, in turn, never intended mayhem
Upon my apricots. I had lately gathered
(Loosing a seam) three brimming buckets
Of gold-red globes the Yahoos only mangled
This year with their almond-evil eyes of desire,
Bark-bark-barking at tight web and plastic snake…
I seined a harvest from under their noses. Then,
Yesterday, I spotted an immense brown fruit
Hanging like a gourd from now-fruitless branches.
It hung in hot August as still as the Cat
That ill-wishing neighbors are famous for leaving
On doorsteps after noisy schoolboard meetings.
Something dead-cat ominous about it
Clung to its hanging. Nothing so bulky
Could overnight have grown, and nothing so brown
Could have grown there at all. Yet nothing so still
Could but perch, and then away. And nothing perches
Gourd-lke, plump side down.
And nothing ripe turns brown.
Your leg was so tangled that two claws broke off
Before I had you down. Brown centrifuge,
You must have thrashed like a top before last thoughts
Spilled out your stare. Angry, angry eyes
Upside-down glared furious good-night—
Not going gentle, but raging in the fight,
Wide-blind in throes of horrid second sight…
The vision itself, I wondered, might have killed.
Petrification of fury,
Hating God and the universe, but never
Me, for you never thought that the nets
Were mine and not God’s. You would have thought
Same jaws that sought your eggs and stalked
Your slumber had caught you in the Tree
At last—so wicked-clever that, upside-down,
You couldn’t even peck a pair of squinty eyes.
All you could do was squawk; and when the Snake
Didn’t proceed to devour, you must have squawked
Like Hell in Handbasket (or in a dry bucket
Brimful of harvested, summer-blanched mad-fruit).
Your long, long lancet beak still open
In ripe rigor mortis, you would have drilled
My helping fingers if I’d found you there
In time; but as it was, you vomited squawks
With parched throat and a thorn-lean tongue
Into the blind infinity of jaws—
Stupid jaws that—job done—wouldn’t swallow…
“What kind of stupid game, then, is this,
Imbecile maw? First smother, then swallow!
Stupid damned Snake—SQUAWK—to make my little skull
A cauldron where blood boils in hot August,
Right-side up… but wrong side for a skull!
Nothing kills this way in any tree!
Did you not even learn the proper etiquette
Of kill-and-eat? Had you no mother-smotherer,
You motherless son of an egg-sucking vermin?
I can see through your scales, you gutless python!
I see their outline, but I see the sky through them.
I see the sky where I should fall to earth.
The sky where I used to fly now underfoot,
And falling farther every time I flap my wings—
Your scales deface it like little cracks that Man
Leaves between the flagstones of his patio.
Man’s games in sky? The sky was always mine!
Nothing, nothing makes sense in my last hour.
A little almost did, now nothing ever will.
Oh, why did I ever live? I’m so damn mad!”
Believe me, Thrasher, I wasn’t after you.
It was the squirrels… and then, the fruit brought in,
It was nothing at all. A time to furl the nets
Just hadn’t fitted my rat-race pilgrimages.
And so you died, paying Darwin’s price
For not being of Nature’s bright ones, while being
Far too high strung, enough to get yourself strung
High… no jokes, though, on your grave, poor knave.
Your stare, your beak, are certainly no joke.
I saw a T-Rex skull once on display…
How happy mankind that your anger comes so small!
George Shirley lives in the Clemson (South Carolina) area. He has studied theology and, in recent years, taught English at various high schools and colleges throughout the Southeast.