Oyster Boy Review 14  
  Winter 2001
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» Levee 67


For the Birds

Shelby Stephenson

I was gotten my father said
from "pulling out not soon enough"
and that was enough to get me started:

said my ears were so big he put me
on the top doorstep to see if I would
fly the long swallow up the shadow-grown

loft of my crib, growing among blackbirds
(four and twenty), crows cawing through
the duckwalking years, the burrowing owl's

whooooo my ears knew the sound
in the fencerow that lonesome whippoorwill he
sounds too blue to fly while the front stoop

my father set me on fell down every time
someone placed a foot on the bottomstep,
unnailed like everything else, the humpthroated

fishhawk loping on to whatever ruffed grouse
could work peripheries:
the mourning doves settle their wings like shields,

their sight on me: fly on, fly on—you nighthawks,
orioles, ospreys—oh the diving
die-does of grebes and the died-apples

(my father called them) of the apple orchard
(they would flop down as if broken-winged
and swing up and out through the trees, a rotting

apple in their beaks): fly on
purple martin for the insects over the house
Grandpa William made for you

and set high on a pole over the garden
of black earth at the Old Place, my
red-bellied woodpecker-self in the fall sun, haying,

my skin blistering, rose-breasted,
road-running, rough-winged, redheaded,
red-throated, laughing at the common snipe

I am, the times I have been left holding the bag,
times I have seen the wide net I pitched go
up in a lark of knots, drunk in

a flutter of wings, my sparse hair
tickling like new bird stubble: sparrows fly round
my head twelve out of twenty-four through one ear

and out the other and they warble as they fly:
blue coots whistle, bleat, and groan
O if warble could find the hermited

blackthroated commonwealth of noise
what dominion of ugly happy tyranny would befall
those birds pitching on the top doorstep.