When Starlings Fall


Fallen Starlings

Belfast, 1920

A sash of winter starlings
rising shoreward
from The Narrows
disintegrates in freeze
of intrusive Arctic air.
Hits zero to their bones.
Their flutter tumbles
jostle willow scrub.
Soft rustlings all around,
and thin twigs snap.

Where low breakers
wash crispy sand flats,
a Portaferry girl and boy
gather rubbery sea wrack,
to pack in wicker baskets
to strengthen soil at home.

The children startle,
logic flown,
to glimpse death
so precipitous
as birds falling from the sky.
They stack dead starlings
black green purple shine
in rows upon the wrack.
Feed for the pigs.
Da might smile.

Boy snaps the necks
of birds that struggle
with some trace of warm.
Thumb and forefinger.
Strong hand, that.
He walks the sand for more.
Girl…she lives the troubles
knows to set the moment
of her brother’s joy in killing.
Tiny sparks to nurture flames.

Bonnie Marshall
August, 2013

Artwork by Walton Ford

29 thoughts on “When Starlings Fall

      1. I grew up on a fruit orchard. As a child – an extremely sensitive child obsessed with mythology, fairies and belief that understanding birds and animals was possible if I listened carefully – vivid daydream memories linger of watching starling flocks dance across the sky.

        My father worked hard, rarely spoke and felt no reason to tell us of the starling traps.I couldn’t have been older than 6 the day their death camp shattered my world. Dad constructed wooden framed sheds – for lack of a better word – covered with heavy plastic (like plastic stapled over windows in winter) They had a roof with opening birds could enter but not exit. It was hinged so he could seal the shed. Fruit “bait” littered the ground. Starlings entered for the easy meal – when enough crowded inside,he shut the top, attached a hose from the exhaust pipe of the Jeep to a fitting on the side, then ran the engine, filling the space with carbon monoxide until they all perished.

        To this day I can relive the horror of discovery.Not old enough to comprehend his frustration as cherries were a starling’s lunch of choice. 🙂

      2. Certainly, I understand from your eloquent, vivid description why you have a personal connection to the poem, and I’m grateful you explained it. Beautiful response!!!

      3. How thoughtful you are to include your postings which I find insightful and rich with understanding of human nature. I’m so pleased I found your writing. Smiles.

      4. For starters I couldn’t believe you spent time reading them 🙂 Guilt prevails any time I do that to someone. Before WordPress I hadn’t written a word in thirty years. This blog was a Mothers Day gift from my daughter 2 years ago – she set it up, called with an address and password saying “you have far too much rattling around in your head”.She was bang on.

      5. Smiles back 🙂 As for late night writing – my life is hardly conventional. I work for a large catering company making fabulous parties happen any time and place high rollin’ money dictates. Some days I start work at 4 AM, others I get home at that time.

  1. Amazing images described. The last four lines hit me hard. The Irish connection within very telling of how killing and joy in it perpetuated around the world. While some are saddened by it there are always those who delight in it.
    I began to see the poem as more than a depiction of the death of the birds. Suddenly they seemed to be humans. Reading it again.
    Very sad comment from Note to Ponder. How harsh we are when our livelihoods are threatened. All mercy disappeared.x

    1. Thank you for your insight. My Irish grandmother…true storyteller…must have told me something like this. I’m glad you connected with it and also with Note to Ponder’s comment. All good.

  2. A beautiful and poignant poem. I especially like the first stanza – it could stand as a poem by itself.

  3. Bonnie, I’m not sure where you got the inspiration for this poem. Do starlings really fall out of the air when they hit cold air? It’s certainly a disturbing image which you have creatively poetized.

    1. It’s not unusual for flocks to fall…fireworks, tall buildings,hail and freezing currents shock and disorient them enough for death. My Irish grandmother had tea and scones ready for me when I came home after school–along with stories like the one that inspired this poem.

  4. the word “snaps” is almost too awful to bear, the thin twigs resembling so closely the starlings’ necks. but much of this poem’s effectiveness is due to sound. i end up worrying about Girl and the sparks and flames. Boy, unable to respond to birds still alive and getting such satisfaction at killing them — well, too many like him still, i’m afraid. such a powerful poem, Bonnie. — Michael

    1. To write it was intense experience, Michael. My mother’s parents raised the first two of seven children in Belfast before sailing to America. My grandmother Greer loved to tell me her stories, though this one I imagined she might have lived. Thank you so much for your impressive insight.

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