The Grackle

The Grackle

A Poem by

See there, the grackle
with its golden eye fixed tight
upon your delicious own?
See the scratching claws?
See the razor beak?
But most of all see the plumage.
They've made feathers out of inkwells.
Made down and flight out of blackest night.
They've taken sticky liquid fright and made it into a bird,
smooth and slick and powerful enough
to shrug off gravity itself.
See it slip between wind drafts
like a thief through louvers.
It is a thing of beauty
if you can brave staring into its golden eyes
while it stares into your delicious own.

See there the grackle.
See it rest on the perch above your head
too far to touch but too close not to be frightening.
See it puff to a size three times its own.
See it raise feathers along its everything,
along its very being.,
See its golden eye gleam brighter
and more darkly all at once,
see it seeing somewhere deeper
into its very own soul,
into that black pit that only black things see into.
See what mammals know as rage
written on both rigidly held wings.
See wrath spelled out on splayed tail feathers,
see the promise of vengeance for every hatchling
falling its nest before its time
from every public park tree you quietly watched them chop down.
See it open its jaws and reach down into itself
letting out a sound that danced on that line
halfway between funeral wail and battle cry.

Now see the grackle smooth itself.
See it make itself into an oil slick
resting carelessly on water.
See each feather go back in place
like children after curfew.
See it shrink, three times, to its own size
and see its eyes dull
to something more like a living thing
and less like something set afire.
Most importantly, see it forget,
as if it could never harm a soul.
As if the entire second stanza
has been just a cruel human work of fiction.
As if it could not possibly be capable
of feeling such rage.
See the outburst and the aftermath,
as if you were watching two different creatures.
Now see the sweet grackle turn to you.
And flex its dainty talons.

And when my son asks me
what we'll eat while in the forest
I'll show him the trees and their leaves and bark,
how to spot it at a glance and know good plants from bad.
And when my son asks me about women,
we'll talk about the birds and the bees.
This is how I see it.
He'll ask me questions too big for classrooms
and I'll point him to nature,
where all the answers present themselves to us
like open books.
And when my son asks me where his people are;
when he points to pictures older than I am and asks
where are all the dark, smiling faces
who used to drink cashew wine at parties
and make music with their own hands
and the things men throw away,
and where are all the people
who used to brukdown and bram,
the ones he's heard stories of,
the ones he reads of in his atlas.

I'll say: Look, son.  See the Grackle.
Really see it, beautiful and horrible as it is.
See its blue, brown, black plumage,
See its golden eye sizing up your delicious own.
See its rigid wings.
See its splayed tail.
See its sudden gentility.
Now see yourself.

If the grackle knew how
our mouths have been shaped as little children
and how they reached in past our gullets
so that we said the word the same way that we vomit.
Black.  We still say it like vomiting.
Like calling someone Black was the same as
leaving sick all over their shirts.

If grackles knew how much we hated their blackness,
they would lighten their feathers to grey. 
They would practice to sing the songs of other birds
in voices and accents that don't quite fit the strict patterns of Kiskadees,
but they would persist, painfully. 
Painful for everyone listening but none would be harmed more
than the grackles themselves. 
They would destroy that thing that made them grackles,
and instead they would be simple-minded mockingbirds. 

If grackles knew how frightening they were
they'd never smooth their feathers,
but wear them raggamuffin rugged
They'd fly only in threatening dives
and steal food from your mouths
and your children's mouths
the same way they do other grackles.
That's right, not even other birds would be safe.

And if grackles knew how frightening they were
perhaps they'd spend all their time
dipping into that pit in their gut
and acting only from their rage.
And perhaps then they'd be hunted, killed and caged.
Just like us.

© 2011

Author's Note

A grackle is a long tailed bird native to North, Central, and South America. It has iridescent black plumage and is known to practice oiling. (It uses the oils from ants and termites to keep its feathers clean.) (

A Kiskadee is a member of the Tyrant Flycatcher family of birds. It has a bright yellow breast with a black head and white markings around the eyes. It is known for its loud, distinctive call. (

If you don't know what a mockingbird is, go read Harper Lee's novel. Or watch the movie, its actually not bad. (Small, grey and black bird, known for mimicking the call of other birds as a defense mechanism) (

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Added on March 10, 2011
Last Updated on March 10, 2011