A Plague of Starlings, by Robert Hayden

I first read Robert Hayden in a strange and wonderful anthology of mystical poetry that contains his beautiful poem “Night-Blooming Cereus.” Soon thereafter, I bought his Collected Poems and fell in love with the poem “A Plague of Starlings,” which remains one of my favorites.

This may seem like mere shameless self-promotion, but my play, “Ice Cream Man,” is returning to the stage next month in Long Island City, Queens. It contains one long monologue and the monologue was inspired by “A Plague of Starlings.” If you come see the play, I’d love to know if you can find Hayden’s poem in it:

A PLAGUE OF STARLINGS
(Fisk Campus)

Evenings I hear
the workmen fire
into the stiff
magnolia leaves,
routing the starlings
gathered noisy and
befouling there.

Their scissoring
terror like glass
coins spilling breaking
the birds explode
into mica sky
raggedly fall
to ground rigid
in clench of cold.

The spared return,
when the guns are through,
to the spoiled trees
like choiceless poor
to a dangerous
dwelling place,
chitter and quarrel
in the piercing dark
above the killed.

Mornings, I pick
my way past death’s
black droppings:
on campus lawns
and streets
the troublesome
starlings
frost-salted lie,
troublesome still.

And if not careful
I shall tread
upon carcasses
carcasses when I
go mornings now
to lecture on
what Socrates,
the hemlock hour nigh,
told sorrowing
Phaedo and the rest
about the migratory
habits of the soul.

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