I reached the shore of our one salt lake
With hopes for what I’d found before,
More shorebirds than a man could count: ruddy
Turnstones turning stones, swirling phalaropes,
Avocets with cinnamon heads and graceful necks,
With black-and-white bodies and flashing wings,
With long blue legs and delicate upturned bills;
But a great storm had struck the area days before,
Tearing roofs off sheds, collapsing granaries,
Sending sheets of metal sailing into fields.
The birds had fled. The lake was bare.
I slumped, then extricated myself from the car,
Stretched . . . and heard forgotten but familiar
Music from the hayfield by the shore. Saw
Bobolinks! Old friends I hadn’t seen for years.
I waded into waist-high grass and walked among them.
Chunky blackbirds swiped with white and patched
With buff on the back of the neck, hence,
Their nickname: butterbirds. Killed off
By the millions, yet here they were, the little
Exhibitionists, still wearing their tuxedoes.
They swayed on long strong stems, then climbed the air,
Stood on wing-tips, cocked their heads back, sang.
Then sank. Ascended. Sang again. A fantastic spangle
Of liquid notes, which, when distant, sprinkled the sky
With sparkling sounds of bells the size of dew drops.
As the butterbirds rose and fell, I turned and turned
In that shower of sound and finally turned to go, fulfilled.
But paid—with the long diagonal drive across the state
And prinkling skin as I pinched, over the following hours,
A total of ten (count ’em) ten individual wood ticks
Creepy crawling up my neck. “Ick!” I hear some
Screen-bound city-slicker say, who hardly knows a sparrow
From a crow. “Who would do a thing like that
Just to hear a damn bird sing?” and have to ask,
“Have you ever seen a bobolink? Have you ever
Heard a bobolink sing? No? I didn’t think so.”