Red-winged Blackbird

                                                                          Photo by Mark Seth Lender

Blackbird Etude

The blackbird sings at
the frontier of his music.
The branch where he sat

marks the brink of doubt,
is the outpost of his realm,
edge from which to rout

encroachers with trills
and melismatic runs sur-
passing earthbound skills.

It sounds like ardor,
it sounds like joy. We are glad
here at the border

where he signs the air
with his invisible staves,
"Trespassers beware"—

Song as survival—
a kind of pure music which
we cannot rival.

A. E. Stallings (b. 1968)

Field Note


Red-winged blackbird's watch-word is "See me; SEEEEEE me."  And you do, the bright red and yellow epaulets blazing as he spreads his wings in display and puffs himself out to say, "Git! Git! Git! Git! Get-away from here or I'll get you!" Which is exactly what he'll do if you are a raven or marauding crow or just a jay who's come too close to Red-wing's family, nesting out of sight just below. Atop the cattails he is his own pennant. His bravery is legend. He sets his standards high.

Mark Seth Lender

* * *

"Blackbird Etude" originally appeared in Poetry, and is forthcoming in the Olives (Northwestern University Press). Reprinted with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.