Morning Talk

By Roberta Hill b. 1947 Roberta Hill

—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

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,

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

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Poet Roberta Hill b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Roberta Hill, a poet of Wisconsin Oneida heritage, is the author of three poetry collections: Star Quilt (1984, 1999)Philadelphia Flowers: Poems (1995), and Cicadas: New and Selected Poems (Holy Cow! Press, 2013). Her first book, Star Quilt,  juxtaposes her ancestral culture with formal approaches to verse. The poems revolve around six basic directions: north, south, east, west, skyward, and earthward. A sense of dispossession . . .

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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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