12-4 poem

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

12.4 (Fall 2012)





Dirge for Brown Thrasher

George Shirley  



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.