by Jennifer Atkinson
Perched unflapped on the low-slung maple
the catbird combs his charcoal wing.
He drags the barbs, shaft to tip,
through his narrow beak—feather by ordinary
his call’s a cat’s cry, his song
a crazy quilt of chirps—mock
titmouse, near vireo, and not-quite
cardinal (or was that a clumsy cover
of the robin’s song?)
claim a song of his own? What advantage,
evolutionarily speaking, lies in self-disguise?
What’s the use to catbird-kind of wooing
incognito? Is he fooling predators by seeming
other just as likely
Will impressive performance win him sweeter
berries, stronger chicks, or darn
the tight weave of a sturdier nest?
Maybe his mimicry—those bits
of this and that
is meant for a catbird beloved, evidence
of wit and memory, proof that this cover-
band virtuoso has heard it all
and been around, faced winter
and hawk and lives to
sing the tale.
What, eavesdropping, I wonder,
would single catbirds value? What
would they listen for in his musical hodge-podge?
Exact mimicry? Tonal variation?
Turns of phrase?
Or merely the sheer number of sampled
trills and warbles? And us humans—
what’s the value to our species
of wondering and unsing-alongable music,
of loafing and listening,
alert and attentive
at the green verge, the dappled ecotone
of song and speech?