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The Cockbird

November 4, 2015

(click – hear the voice behind the words)

They blame soybeans and pesticides.
But the ecology is more complicated.

When I was young, the farm fields
of rural Hunterdon County New Jersey
spawned flocks of Pheasants –
Ring-Necked, brilliant colors of the rainbow.

At age 10,
I’d walked the fields with my father’s short haired pointer
nose to ground, followed their scent,
his rigid stance marked the grassy patches
where nature bred the birds to rest,
lie low, concealed,
camouflaged by fall browned grasses.

At age 14, Thanksgiving afternoon,
my responsibilities as defensive end completed,
I walked those fields with my own dog,
an English Spaniel,
to flush out a fresh one to supplement the turkey.
Marinated in a tomato sauce, seasoned by red wine
I dip the Italian bread, hot from the oven,
in the juices of my plate.

I lost this in my college years.
Brief Thanksgiving vacations
left little time for dogs and guns.
As an educated man,
perhaps I lost the sporting urge as well.

When settled eight years later,
the cut throat pressures of the business world
left me longing for the land again.
I called my father about Thanksgiving morning.
Asked him if he wanted some company going out.

I learned then
what twelve years had wrought.
“I will be picking up the birds about 5 o’clock
Wednesday evening if you want to help.”

No more wild hens to produce
the ring necked cocks so ardently sought.
Not one to be found in this now, semi-rural area.

Paradoxically, it was not new homes,
but unlikely culprits – corn and soybeans.
The hay fields vanished with the milking cows.
Fixed rows of food staples
replaced the grassy scenes
where hens and their broods
formerly moved with stealth and ease
foraged and found abundant insects.

Now pesticides applied
between precise rows of crops
keep both insects and nuisances grass at bay.
Food and shelter gone
the hens and their chicks homeless, needy,
now orphans in a habitat only slightly changed
to the naked eye.

This Thanksgiving Day the hound would be catching
birds in his mouth, from whom the instinct to be flushed
had been bred, or who were too indolent
to want to escape.

I walk the fields preoccupied –
an unrealistic hope –
that I could find one I could respect.
One which like the birds of old
would run as fast as other birds could fly
take a sporting chance at escape –
challenge me, my reactions,
my 35 year old aim.

Now no longer gamebird,
colorful penned up long-tailed beauty
visited by school children in yellow buses
carving pumpkins on the picnic tables –

it is no wonder this walk no longer holds allure.
Even the dogs have lost interest.

Ray Brown

Consider purchasing my book, “I Have Your Letters Still” – Poetry of Everyday Life (140 pages – $11.95) Order on Amazon, http://tinyurl.com/RayBrownAmazon 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rick permalink
    November 30, 2010 7:49 pm

    Ray, hope you and yours had a nice Thanksgiving. This poem hits very close to home for me. I grew up in Northern Illinois and spent many days Pheasant and Duck Hunting with my Grandfather. My very first dog was a washed out German Shorthair that my grandfather took in to keep it from being put down.
    My current Pointer and I hunt the fields above Spruce Run without a gun on Sundays and flush free the sorry birds that are placed for their slaughter during the week.

    Best, Rick

  2. Ray Brown permalink*
    December 11, 2010 6:46 am

    Rick, Thank you for reading. Thanksgiving was meaningful and enjoyable with family. Trust yours was as well. Pleased you appreciated the poem. If you ever are looking for a hunting companion, let me know. Ray

  3. November 30, 2014 1:36 pm

    Enjoyed your reading of the poem.

  4. Ray Brown permalink*
    December 1, 2014 11:45 am

    Thank you again slpmartin. Trust you had a pleasant Thanksgiving.

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