by Megan Snyder-Camp
On PBS the mockingbirds
live in a gated community.
Inside the compound a spiraling hall
and then the little door
behind which the eggs are hidden.
Five thousand beaksful of mud
quarried out and hardened into concrete.
Not even the rain can harm it now.
Along the meadow, sheep and green,
real estate the narrator wants.
The mockingbird nest sits on a fence post
and soon enough the black and brown
neighbors sidle up. Everybody wants
what you’ve built. They want it
more than you. These cowbirds
are patient, they wait along the fence
until the mockingbirds are hungry enough
to leave the nest. Or until the mockingbirds
are not paying attention. Into the nest
a cowbird darts, and within seconds
she’s laid her egg there among the others.
Back out and into the sheepy field.
Her fertility a circus trick, a marvel,
a burden the taxpayers bear. In Baltimore
the mayor called the looters thugs
and then took it back, no one is a thug.
Here is the video of the mother who beat her child
until he dropped what he had taken.
The mockingbird returns and sees the new egg,
drops it onto cold grass. The voice doesn’t say
how she is later punished. How the cowbird
returns to break each egg against the fence.
I was home for a visit last week
when the National Guard took over.
Their tanks cracked our streets
and tangled in streetlights. Not all streets
were wide enough to hold them. Shut it down,
everyone said, shut it down. I took my daughter
to the rally but no one was there. The police
had taken over a payday loan place
and they pretended not to know
where the crowd had gathered.
I could see into the hive
but could not make sense of their words.
The sergeant came out with a billy club
strapped to his leg. This isn’t
my home anymore. I can explain
what was done to Freddie Gray
in the back of the van but not why.
In my Baltimore I was a child.
Oreo, they said if you sat together.
Reverse Oreo. The bathroom stall
kicked open. So many cowbirds
along the fence. When do they sleep?
They appear tireless, always in groups, frightening
newcomers. What does it cost
to be left alone? Sometimes the mockingbird
raises the cowbird chick. It hatches early,
the narrator warns, it grows too big.
Last updated September 24, 2022