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A Serious Note


Staying up late last night,

I opened the screen door

And stepped outside the light

To look for a star or two.

But stars were few to find,

Those I was looking for,

With eyes a little blind

In the too luminous blue

And soft suburban glow;

And the moon's expressionless O

I used to think expressed

Bewilderment and woe

Was merely drifting through

A drifting wrack of cloud

Directly overhead.

An egg in a flimsy nest?

Or a half-covered breast

In its rumpled habitat?

I almost spoke aloud,

Say what you mean tonight,

But light was all it said—

What can I say but light

And reflected light at that?

Let that be my failing.

So, with a sigh, I bent

To earth and undergrowth

Where I stood, inhaling

The breath of leaf and flower

Spread unseen at my feet,

An overpowering scent

That seemed to me, in truth,

My own sweet life in bloom—

As if one could be both,

Sweetness, and all that it meant

To say that it was sweet—

And under the rich perfume

Was something rank and sour.

No, none of this was mine;

There were the shapes of trees,

Cypress and cedar and pine

Motionless in the breeze,

Green to the black power

Against the pale night sky;

And there, as well, was I.

Who heard, I thought, a thrush

Whistling its artless song

In the oleander bush

Or in the cedar tree,

Brilliant, fluent and free

With never a note wrong.

It was a bewitching air.

But thrushes are pretty rare

In this neck of the woods

And most of our neighborhoods—

It must be some other bird.

And suddenly I knew,

Even before it flew,

Just who it was I heard—

Whoever she wanted to call,

Clearly it wasn't me,

For even as she ascended,

The little mockingbird,

On some invisible mission,

One would have had to be blind

Not to see that derision

Was the last thing she had in mind.

In all innocence,

That was how it ended.

And the best joke of all,

A joke at my own expense,

Was to end on a serious note,

One not intended to be

Misunderstood by me,

Out of a mockingbird's throat.


Robert Mezey



From Collected Poems: 1952-1999,
University of Arkansas Press, © 2000.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

by Grapholina

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