That brainy corvid,
That omnivorous American gangster,
Our thoroughly corrupted
Emissary to the Sky God,
The cruelly handsome blue jay.
You mustn’t let that pale face deceive you.
He’s native from claws to impudent crest,
And this beautiful brave hasn’t willingly sold
So much as an inch of his hunting grounds.
Here comes a raiding party through the trees!
That orchestrated anarchy
Of brassy peals and blaring jeers!
To the blue jays
The world is a traffic jam.
Let everyone know they’re here for their cut
Of whatever is ripe for the thieving.
Summer or winter
They’re dressed to the tens
In cerulean vestments
Whose dorsal wingspread
Is America’s banner to the Blue Yonder.
The hungry sable eye is our filched fiftieth star—
Collapsed into black hole of cunning.
And that charcoal necklace
Is the rope-burn of a highwayman
Who’d slipped the Law’s noose.
And you can’t tell a blue-jay Bonnie from her Clyde.
Not for her tagging along
Mutely in undertones.
These lifelong partners in crime
Likely extort the same designer.
As they dance through the trees
You can hear their softly ringing kachinks,
Their mock of the hawk (when one isn’t around),
Their strange sing-alongs in the twelve-tone scale—
There’s no end to their vocal repertoire,
Though when they’re up to really no good
They’re as silent and stealthy
As safecrackers on a heist.
The blue jay
Is a genius improvisator.
The thick black bill is a universal tool.
Look: she’s hammering a hickory like a woodpecker.
She’s flipping leaf-litter with the robins.
She’s probing for frogs like a shoreline heron.
She joins a flicker in decimating an anthill.
She’s a kingbird now, hawking for darners,
Till she’s cadging cherries with the cedar waxwings.
Look at that weasel—absconding with an egg!
No mother bird can trust her near the nest.
But at her own of woven twigs atop a pine
She’s a mother too, and with touching devotion
Honors her little thieves with a cicada.
She’s mobbing a barred owl with her syndicate.
Now she’s billing her take from your hand!—
So long as she thinks you’re frozen with fright
And you never let on that she isn’t stealing.
Then she’s with the deer, foraging in the corn.
She’s caching acorns with the autumn squirrels.
She’s seizing the winter birdfeeder,
Scattering the titmice and chickadees—
This gangstress isn’t waiting her turn
Behind a bunch of tiny songbirds—
And flinging all the millet to the snow
She garners the choicest sunflower seeds.
But where is she now? Where is her strut?
Her jeers at the majestic winter silence?
A melancholy rain
Of plumage white and blue.
The small birds
Wing gratefully back
To the feeder.
She’s on her one and only way to heaven
In the talons of the hawk she loved to mock.
And the shout-outs of the blue jays
Echo through the budding woods.
“I’m here!” “And I’m over here!”
“I’m up here now.” “Me too!”
“Here I am!” “I’m down here.” “I’m still here.”
“I’m way over here!” “I’m back here now!”
“I’m heading this way!” “I’m coming!” “Me too.”
“I’m here. I said, I’m here! Hey, where is everybody?”
(And how much of what we call conversation
Is really nothing more than this.)
Then deeper through the woods they range
In all their sublime flamboyance,
These devilishly blue racketeers
Who’d braved the deadly winter wide-awake—
How they raise with pride their own alarm!
It’s their reveille to the hibernators,
And a sarcastic welcome back
To the migrants flocking in from the south,
For the winter that couldn’t kill them off
Has made them stronger,
And it’s time to make the New World new again—
Crashing the parties
Crashing the funerals
Looting the invaders
(They fully expect to outlast us)
With their allergy to all solemnity,
Their unschooled smartness
And enviable air of illegality.
These high priests of the lowlife
Who are never above a scandal,
Never far from the gray and shady
Where the fruits are so much sweeter
For being stolen
And the profits are nothing but handsome
For the organized crime of the blue jays.