Henrietta Goodman

Quiscalus mexicanus (Great-Tailed Grackle)

. . . these vagabond troopers, so common everywhere as to come under the contempt of familiarity.
             —The Coues Check List of North American Birds, 1882

Familiarity is not our problem. Our problem
is the birds in the tree next door—all winter,
squawking deep in the only green.
By April, so loud I can barely hear you.
On the ground they wobble, tails cocked
like skewed keels, the sheen of their feathers like oil
on wet asphalt. White-eyed, their sockets look pecked clean.
At dusk, at dawn, they shriek the soundtrack
to the shower scene in Psycho, violins
composed to screech like grackles, like a knife
ripping flesh: rank-rank-rank-rank,
reek-reek-reek-reek-reek, the sound you make
when you mean to say a woman’s crazy.
If you could hear me, I’d say it’s a woman
being murdered. You’d say too dumb
to lock the door. I’d say don’t go.
You’d say lock the door. Even now,
ornithologists disagree over what Linnaeus meant
by Quiscalus—maybe an onomatopoieticon,
maybe early Portuguese for quail, or maybe
from the Spanish quisquilla: a trifling dispute, a triviality,
or the Latin quisquiliae for refuse, dregs,
the small twigs and leaves which fall from trees.
So the birds are fighting over nothing,
as we do. Or the Latin quis for who.
We hear it all day and all night, that stabbing arm
raised, a whirlpool of blood down the drain,
and even now, I hardly know you.
Who is crazy? Who to blame? Quis?