Morning Talk

By Roberta Hill Whiteman b. 1947

—for Melissa L. Whiteman

“Hi, guy,” said I to a robin   
perched on a pole in the middle   
of the garden. Pink and yellow   
firecracker zinnias, rough green   
leaves of broccoli,
and deep red tomatoes on dying stems   
frame his still presence.

“I’ve heard you’re not
THE REAL ROBIN. Bird watchers have   
agreed,” I said.”THE REAL ROBIN   
lives in England. They claim
your are misnamed and that we ought   
to call you ‘a red-breasted thrush’   
because you are
indigenous.”

He fluffed up. “Am I not
Jis ko ko?” he cried, “that persistent   
warrior who carries warmth
northward every spring?”
He seemed so young, his red belly   
a bit light and his wings, still
faded brown. He watched me
untangling the hose to water squash.

“Look who’s talking!” he chirruped.   
“Your people didn’t come
from Europe or even India.   
The turtles say you’re a relative   
to red clay on this great island.”
Drops of crystal water   
sparkled on the squash.

“Indigenous!” he teased   
as he flew by.

FOOTNOTES: Jis ko ko is the Iroquoian name for Robin. In the story, he is a young warrior who confronts the old man of winter. The old man uses ice and brutal winds to keep Jis ko ko’s warmth away from the earth. When the old man shoots him on the chest with an arrow of ice, the young man bleeds and transforms into the bird. Even as a bird, he continues his purpose, bringing warm rain and growth—green leaves, flowers and fruit.

Roberta Hill Whiteman, “Morning Talk” from Philadelphia Flowers. Copyright © 1996 by Roberta Hill Whiteman. Used by permission of Holy Cow! Press, www.holycowpress.org.

Source: Philadelphia Flowers (Holy Cow! Press, 1996)

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Poet Roberta Hill Whiteman b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Nature, Relationships, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

Roberta Hill Whiteman, a poet of Wisconsin Oneida heritage, is the author of Star Quilt, a poetry collection which integrates her ancestral culture with European-based approaches to verse. Whiteman grew up in Wisconsin among the Oneida community and also in Green Bay; the family moved between the two locales several times. In previous centuries the Oneida were forced to make a series of moves that displaced them from their . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Nature, Relationships, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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