Dead Bird Poems: “Dead Red Wing”

September 16, 2010

Red-winged Blackbird
Image via Wikipedia

Jim Behrle, who has to be one of the funniest most irascible poets on the Interwebz, had a recent post about Dead Bird Poems on his blog:

“The Dead Bird Poem is one of the most honored of American forms. Take sappy pastoral, add a dead or dying bird and just watch the meaning drip from your canvas like grease off a slice of bacon. Someone had sent me a Facebook note about the 5 or 6 dead bird poems in whatever year’s that was Best American Poetry.”

I wrote a dead bird poem almost a decade ago, called “Dead Red Wing.”

At the time, I worked for The Nature Conservancy and gave a presentation to a birding group.  The group meeting started with typical group meeting business, then segued into a Quaker-meeting-style sharing of bird sightings and notations.  It was quite poetic.

Then they brought out the specimens.

The meeting turned into a kind of flea market or science fair.  Dead birds, bird parts, wings, feet, beaks; heads, whole birds, birds with missing wings; gashed birds, smashed birds.  It was quite a spectacle.

One woman removed a Ziploc bag from a portable cooler.  She opened the bag and unwrapped a beautiful, complete (and quite frozen) red-winged blackbird.  She handed it to me.  That was all I needed.

Here is my poem “Dead Red Wing,” which didn’t make it into Best American Poetry in 1995 the year it was published in a small journal called Blueline out of SUNY Potsdam:

“Dead Red Wing”

Come spring, you’d be up

in the low trees,

on telephone wires,

bowing foxtail in the marsh,

your song become vain:–


Flash of red on black wing

poised to singe the eyes

trained on you,

a life-bird,

through field glasses.

In my hand you are stiff,


The woman

who brought you

to the birding group

kept you

in a Ziploc bag

in the freezer,

next to the roast

and last week’s red beans.

Every evening,

when she finished her vigil

at the window,

she took you out,

rubbed your cold breast,

ruffled feathers,

sang your song.

–Scott Edward Anderson, Blueline, Volume XVI

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2 Responses to “Dead Bird Poems: “Dead Red Wing””

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ScottEdward Anderson, Poetry Scores. Poetry Scores said: Live bird poem by condemned man: @greenskeptic Dead Bird Poems: "Dead Red Wing" @behrle […]

  2. Chris King of @PoetryScores fame responded to this post with a dead bird poem of his own that’s worth a read, especially for you Meriwether Lewis fans:

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