The Mockingbird

I have heard the mockingbird’s own personal song:
late at night when other fowl have found their nests,
the tune comes sweet and low, passed like a hot plate
between two diners at an all-night chop house,
whose whispers barely rise above the constant hum
of the deep freeze and yellow-red heat lamps
on the raised platform between greasy cook and rumpled girl,
whose chewing gum snaps like the second hand
of a battery-powered watch, keeping and doing time.

I have heard the mockingbird at other times, too:
echoing note for note an exercise of Paganini’s,
repeating sections time and time again, each trill
rehearsed like a second chair violinist aiming for first.

I have heard the mockingbird, disguised among the trees;
and though the other birds perhaps were fooled,
leaving their nests to search for some Caruso-throated Romeo,
as a musician and singer myself, I could tell it was him,
showing off, pretending like Jack Benny would, to be inept,
and only capable of the rough squawks and whistles
that comprise the repertoire of wrens and crows.

I have heard the mockingbird’s own secret verse:
for fellow mockingbirds alone, this song is loosed,
when haughty critics and ignorant crowds have gone away.
Then the Bird drops his subservient tone, and
with Dizzy and Monk, after hours, shows what he can do.

15 JUL 2005

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