When it was the choir boy’s turn
to sing, he had something to say first,
in a language that he’d learned,
and everybody heard.
He’d forgotten what he was called.
Was his name Gordon? Was his name Walt?
Sweating by the whitewashed walls,
he warbled joyous calls.
After a mocking bird’s cackle,
he waited a tenth of a second
for the whirring rattlesnake
and the winter wolf’s bark.
A hyla croaking in a pond,
he made it up as he went along,
the grunts of a nursing sow,
the crowing cock at dawn.
The wildfowl’s nighttime notes,
he sang what he knew and didn’t know,
the elk and its hoarse bellow,
a buzzard’s float, so slow.
The gab of the barbaric hawk,
history and memory weren’t bunk,
a sheldrake lost from the flock,
the wild gander’s honk.
The screaming myriads of gulls,
beyond the woods the whistling quail,
the hermit thrush unrivalled,
the sadness of the owl.
From the bushes, the jay’s quick trill
and then the lowing of the cattle,
the sparrow’s notes so simple,
the scream of the eagle.
The katydid’s chromatic reeds
over the well in the walnut tree,
the earnest words of the priest,
he sang what struck the ear.
The robin’s call in elastic air,
a triumphantly twittering bird,
now he had taken his turn
and everybody’d heard.
Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His book Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields also released an album in 2015, Somebody’s Hometown, and an EP in 2016, Défense de jouer.