Several years ago, I was in San Antonio on a business trip. Early one morning, I took a walk and encountered an enormous flock of birds in a crowded, inner city sanctuary surrounded by buildings and stone. The incongruity was striking but more than that, the noise was deafening. I sat outside a coffee shop and scribbled notes that would comprise the first part of this poem. I thought I knew where this poem was headed but could never finalize it.
Years later, I returned on my second business trip to San Antonio. I went for a run one day (an exceptional way to learn your surroundings) and ended up in a “bad” part of town (or so it seemed). I was struck by my own xenophobia, something I thought I was immune to. I did not know it on that run, but several months later, as I began to work on this bird poem again, the work came into its own. The immigration debate still looms large and while I realize that this debate encompasses more than mere cultural differences, there is still a fair amount of disheartening xenophobia residing as undercurrent. Immigration, prejudice, xenophobia: the poem breaches our awkward silence and ultimately ends in failure, the paralyzing haze of indecision.
A few key terms:
Mudlark: “someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value, a term used especially to describe those who scavenged this way in London during the late 18th and 19th centuries”.
King Solomon’s Ring: rumored to give the bearer the ability to talk to animals.
St. Francis of Assisi: an Italian friar who preached to the birds until “all those also on the trees came round him, and all listened while St Francis preached to them, and did not fly away until he had given them his blessing”. St. Francis called the birds his 'little sisters'.
Release: This word in the poem seems unsuitable but is actually a musical term used in conducting “indicated by a circular motion, the closing of the palm, or the pinching of finger and thumb. A release is usually preceded by a preparation and concluded with a complete stillness”.
Caesura: “a complete pause in a line of poetry or in a musical composition”.
The sword of Damocles: a legendary symbol in myth that epitomizes “the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power”.
The “calico” reference is in regard to myself as part Spanish, French, and Choctaw/Chickasaw Indian.
Xenophobic of Mudlarks
Dawn tilts the tourist city molten gray, the simper of traffic soon will snarl as street noise stirs the transient to their call. Among travelers, I greet the day with hunger and amble near water in search of food.
My ears meet them first, the windsong lifts their discordant cries, a clamorous chorus slowly swelling to a harsh, demonious din. They loom above the brow bent passersby Emerging in silver light as bleakness dull. Frenetic flits as doppelgänger leaves incarnate a crepitate crown across evergreen oaks, the natural monarchs here. Concrete masters hold sway over the insentient triviality of their lives, their only fame, the sheer vastness of them. Within the faux regal edifice of man, incongruous home for the exiled, they afford a subsistence beyond their wild wandering.
Amid this babelous rise, a conductor, avian sentinel charged with watch, signals release, quells the turbulent storm, the choir shutters in ominous silence. Nothingness suspends. A caesura hangs above the paupers, purveyors, and kings. The obsequious horde: stones in silence. The sword of Damocles dangles. I shift my gaze to spy the danger the dark gleaners see. Blind to my cavernous eyes, the lurking peril heightens a baleful woe beyond my reach.
Is the fear they fear, is that fear not me? What hazard disquiets their dissonant song?
My mind hazes an answer dim, when instantly, piercing the sky, a solitary shriek: sudden, stark, solemn, resound of danger, the signaled sign to all scavengers, and, like scattered shot to the sky, stones burst, a thousand winged hysterics wielding chaos in flight. Dark cloud, the migrant tumult, no more.
The courtyard rings hollow now. Their absence startles the separatist within. Could I, in my jaundiced eye, not see as St. Francis sees? Where I see a cloistral throng, nuisance noise of ten thousand aliens unlike me, the bard of Assisi a thousand sisters sees. Could even the charm of King Solomon’s ring crumble this wall, the border that bounds me in? Lonely isolation bids me follow, my calico self stares through bars of my making and for a moment I seek the freedom all captives seek, beyond my wild wandering.
Am I, a parochial pariah to emancipate be?
No. My prejudice, shrined as pillar of salt, rebukes the risk, conscripts me to return, to congregate with the comfort of my kind.