Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Swallows by A. E. Stallings


Every year the swallows come
And put their homestead in repair,
And raise another brood, and skim
And boomerang through summer air,
And reap mosquitoes from the hum
Of holidays. A handsome pair,
One on the nest, one on the wire,
Cheat-cheat‐cheat, the two conspire

To murder half the insect race,
And feed them squirming to their chicks.
They work and fret at such a pace,
And natter in between, with clicks
And churrs, they lift the raftered place
(Seaside taverna) with their tricks
Of cursive loops and Morse-code call,
Both analog and digital.

They seem to us so coupled, married,
So flustered with their needful young,
So busy housekeeping, so harried,
It’s hard to picture them among
The origins of myth—a buried
Secret, rape, a cut-out tongue,
Two sisters wronged, where there’s no right,
Till transformation fledges flight.

But Ovid swapped them in the tale,
So that the sister who was forced
Becomes instead the nightingale,
Who sings as though her heart would burst.
It’s Ovid’s stories that prevail.
And so the swallow is divorced
Twice from her voice, her tuneless chatter,
And no one asks her what’s the matter.

These swallows, though, don’t have the knack
For sorrow—or we’d not have guessed—
Though smartly dressed in tailored black,
Spend no time mourning, do not rest.
One scissors forth, one zigzags back,
They take turns settled on the nest
Or waiting on a perch nearby
To zero in on wasp or fly.

They have no time for tragic song,
As dusk distills, they dart and flicker,
The days are long, but not as long
As yesterday. The night comes quicker,
And soon the season will be wrong.
Knackered, cross, they bitch and bicker,
Like you and me. They never learn.
And every summer, they return.

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