Elegy for the Rejected Birds

Editors aren’t messing around with no birds now.
—Luke Johnson

In the arbor vita that divides
my yard from the neighbors
the gangs of house sparrows
chatter all at once especially

in the needling brightness of
Minnesota winter and then
all at once they go quiet as if
they too were delivered terrible

words they must work through—
some news cycle about the mass
shelling of flocks shot down
over grasslands and falling falling

out of the yawning blue to land
with a barrage of dull thumps on
editors’ desks. As if the sparrows
are shocked silent to find

a widespread repudiation of
their effortless wonder. That even
the poem about the moody cry
of the red-winged blackbird

and its call back to a childhood lived
on the prairie has been summarily
sent back with a polite apology. I could
write of the single nighthawk who visits

my neighborhood every moonrise
to feast on mosquitoes. How I can
only hear her call—a frequency
that sounds like insects mating and I

might let her symbolize an agency
that scrubs menace from darkness
that plucks vermin from the air
and feasts by proxy on blood

in the belly of the bug—my own.
But no editor wants her and her easy
flight into metaphor. In museums
across the world catalogued birds

are tucked into restricted areas
where feathers lay folded in drawers
collected back when we’d kill to know
more of what iridescence greens

then rouges the hummingbird’s
neck but editors can’t take stock
of those shadowy collections
when the hurt that flies through

their homes has no analog
in ornithology no song to sing
in loon or the obvious melancholy
of the mourning dove’s coo so they

flock in the stasis of their slush piles.
Editors can’t anymore with your
nightingale your skylark your linnet
and finch. Once upon a time editors

dreamt of flying in dreams so close
to real their narrow shoulders itched
in the morning where their wings
were supposed to sprout but now

they take down the feeder
because of bird flu and they hang
a drape over the bay window
so another cardinal doesn’t break

her neck against her own reflection.
All the winged creatures that try to get in
bounce off and fall in a litter of paper
and down, feathers eddying in

rejected piles. Editors say we prefer
no ways of looking at a blackbird.
They say best of luck placing
your birdsong elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

Sonia Greenfield (she/they) is the author of two new collections of poetry: All Possible Histories (Riot in Your Throat, December 2022) and Helen of Troy is High AF (Harbor Editions, January 2023). She is the author of Letdown (White Pine Press), American Parable (Autumn House), and Boy with a Halo at the Farmer’s Market (Codhill Press). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry (2010, 2018), Southern Review, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis, where she teaches at Normandale College, edits the Rise Up Review, and advocates for neurodiversity and the decentering of the cis/het white hegemony.