“Circolo Della Caccia”
(for Douglas Allanbrook)
Italian butchers love the shooting season.
It lasts at least six months, some places longer.
Thrushes, larks, and other speckled singers
hang up to ripen, dangling by their bloody
beaks, eyes glassy, feather coats bedraggled.
Any old bird who makes it through the season
has lasted out a war – the hunters number
twice any army Italy has mustered –
imposing laws of natural selection
for songlessness or silence in the woods.
Just scuff your shoe on any gravel walk
and thickets are vacated on the instant
with a desperate scramble and a chirped alarm.
Then hours go by without a glimpse of a bird,
just distant songs of sex and altercations.
You wonder why the hunters never shoot
at swallows that patrol the city rivers
hell-bent as bats, or bag the swifts that twitter
above your head at cocktails on the terrace.
Though songbirds of open spaces, fields and mountains
are hunted down, fair game, to turn on spits
and freshen the mouth’s appetite for wine,
I once for three acts watched a sparrow flutter
around an opera house’s chandelier
while every eye was fixed upon Mimi
and no one noticed the bird until he dropped
dead on the stage abaft of the soprano.