What Is a Grackle?

A comfort common to Southwest desert
parking lots, a familiar, a messenger,
an overlooked angel oiled by asphalt,

consolation of the casino, supermarket
spiritual guide picking at a free-today
hot dog, a dropped grape or lentil,

its purple-green head iridescent,
its long keel of a tail.
Black birds but not blackbirds

with their showy epaulettes blood-red
as a war field. Grackles glint
like lacquered ebony, the females brunhildas,

if by brunhilda you mean “brown-headed,”
not the German “ready for battle.” Blind
to centuries of borders, of battles, they waddle

stiff-legged at your feet, a janitorial sweep
to their tails, checking cart tires and light poles
for moths, beetles, singing their seven songs —

slides, whistles, wheezes, catcalls, chirps,
murmurs, clucks — to console you
for your losses: stolen cars, mortgage

payments spun to mist at a roulette table,
the beloved who breathed fire and scorched
your wedding clothes. Folly, wreckage,

they mutter, down among the packs
of backerboard and spackle. We’ve fallen
from Mayan temples. In a past life
we prophesied. In a past life we were gods.

More Poems by Susan Elizabeth Howe